Howard Schultz: I raise my frappuccino to the Brits

'Values' are only meaningful if you stick to them in bad times as well as good

Friday 27 March 2009 01:00 GMT

Economies around the world have, for thousands of years, recreated themselves many times. Often, the outcome has represented progress brought about by perseverance, innovation and optimism.

Each time I visit the UK, I am struck by the resilience and fundamental decency of the British people. I like to think I may have inherited just a small bit of it from my grandfather, Wolfe Lederman, who was born in Manchester.

As I guide my company through these challenging economic times, I look to Britain for strength of purpose and steely resolve: as a nation you espouse these qualities every day.

In difficult times like these, we find ourselves stepping back – realising what is important and what, in the cold light of today's world, seems less so. What stays are our values, our spirit of reinvention and the confidence that we can make things better. What goes: just about everything else.

It is easy to pay lip service to the concept of "values" in the good times, but I would submit they are only meaningful if you stick with them in the less good times too.

One great example of us staying true to our values is that we have strengthened our relationship with Fairtrade. Together, we are working to ensure that the high-quality, ethically sourced coffee we and others buy is helping coffee-growing regions in Africa, Latin America and Asia – economically, socially and environmentally.

Wall Street and some of the other investor centres must now recognise that it is a different world out there. This is a long-term game, not a frivolous short-term bet. Consumers care about what is most important: their families, their communities and those in need.

The days of so-called "conspicuous consumption" may be gone for good – or at least for another decade or two – but we believe replacing that old way of life is conscientious consumption. In other words, consumers' desire to spend with companies they trust to do the right things.

Shared values are as important as shareholder value. I like to call it responsible capitalism, and to me it is the flip side of conscientious consumerism – corporations must do their part to enable consumers to feel good about how they spend their (increasingly limited) money. So if that is the responsible piece – where does this leave capitalism? In order for the global economy to return to good health and stay that way, we must continue to innovate. Our launch in London this week of VIA, our first instant coffee is, I hope, an example of such innovation – allowing us to deliver something of quality and real excellence in a country where instant coffee is part of the culture.

It has been a difficult year for Starbucks, as it has been for just about everybody. It was incredibly hard to lose some of the talented people who helped to get us where we are today as we worked to weather the economic storm. But I believe if we hold on to our founding principles, focus on innovation, our customers and the future, then we will continue to make the world a better place, one cup at a time, and we will prevail.

The author is chairman, president and chief executive of Starbucks

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