Howard Schultz, the big boss at Starbucks, wasn’t a founder of the company — he didn’t join the company until the 1980s — and yet his mark is indelible on the brand’s products, mission, and ethos. According to a new Forbes profile, which tracks the businessman’s stratospheric rise since taking over, he’s turned Starbucks into an incredibly profitable company. Mistakes? He’s made a few — everyone remembers the debacle that was last year’s “race together” campaign — but he’s also brought on amazing initiatives that help Starbucks give back and allow baristas to go to college. How does he do it? In part, it seems, Schultz’s success is due to the fact that he never allows himself to forget “the time when he was a nobody.” In fact, he sometimes likes to go to the original Starbucks location — never modernized, according to the profile — in the middle of the night to give himself some time to think and center himself. Is that where Schultz decided that this year’s holiday cup was going to be just plain red instead of offering a message of good cheer?
Who knows, but it was a huge win for the company.
The Forbes profile, which details both Schultz’s momentum as well as his missteps offers up a lot of wisdom. For instance, he’s not here to sell people on the idea that you have to go to college to become a success. He didn’t go to business school, and he’s a billionaire. But that’s because he was able to take his early bad fortune and turn it into something positive, instead of becoming embittered:
“I’m still this kid from Brooklyn who wanted to fight his way out,” Schultz says. He grew up in the 1960s in subsidized housing, steeped in the anxieties of a father who suffered workplace injuries and couldn’t hold a job. “I didn’t go to an Ivy League school,” Schultz reminds me. “I didn’t go to business school.” Instead of resenting those early deprivations, he treasures them. Schultz has discovered that America–and, in fact, the whole world–loves an up-from-hardship story. His candor about his beginnings in the gritty Canarsie section helps him strike a rapport with everyone from other chief executives to young black and Latino adults trying to find their first jobs. “Even though I don’t have the same color of skin,” Schultz explains, “I was one of those kids. I could have today been one of those kids.”