BOTW #6: Onward Book Review (The Starbucks Story)

First of all I want to say I don't particularly like Starbucks, I am more of a Tim Horton's kind of guy but after I read this book my perception of Starbucks changed forever. This story revolves around Howard Schultz and his tough road returning as CEO, navigating his struggling company and bringing it back to the type of company they started out as.

The reoccurring theme in this book that can apply to anyone and any company is integrity. No matter what happened to Starbucks (i.e. closing down 600 stores and losing 12,000 employees, the 2008 recession and their stock prices plummeting) they stayed true to what they valued as a company, which included keeping their health benefits to all employees and continuing to fund their environmental/charitable endeavours. Their 4 pillared core values includes coffee, innovation, the customer and value, which all formed the guiding path to where Starbucks needed to go. Having values is one thing but it's another thing in conveying that to the consumer. The thing that connected that with the masses is emotion.

"Starbucks is a human company serving coffee, not a coffee company that serves people" - Howard Schultz

Starbucks had built such a loyal following because of this emotional connection as their consumers referred to the store they frequented the most as 'their' Starbucks. A person even referred to 'their' Starbucks store as a form of church. Something happened during their growth and they lost their identity (i.e. too many stores, dabbling in too many things like music, inadequate training, human interaction on the decline). Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward and that's exactly the approach Howard took when he got back behind the reigns. They looked at past icons like the Beatles and deconstructed what an icon should be:

  1. They sense tension f the terms and provide something to hope for
  2. Assert cultural authority. Frame how people see the world.
  3. Don't confuse history with heritage. Always protect and project their values.
  4. They disrupt themselves before others disrupt them
  5. Willing to sacrifice short term gain for long term relevance

Taking all of these principles they created a transformation agenda targeting ideas that would bolster their core values and set them on a course to realign themselves to the values of the first Starbucks store that ever opened.

Other Business Takeaways

Silver Bullets

There is no such thing as a 'silver bullet' in business. That one thing that would fix everything wrong with your business. It's always a combination of factors that contribute and not a single product, which Howard thought the Sorbetto would be but failed to do anything.


Innovation is not only rethinking of the product but the rethinking of the nature of the relationship. With the introduction of digital it changed the dynamics between the consumers and companies. That's where Starbucks shone with the introduction of where they got ideas from their customers, did social media as well as anyone and introduced the rewards program.


Success is so subjective and hard to define. Is it how much money you make? Is it how many people you impact? It can really be anything and everyone has their own definition. The only thing that matters is the next step you take no matter how small, as long as you are on the right path with the right motives then it doesn't matter.

"Success is not sustainable if it's defined on how big you become. The only number that matters is 'one'. One cup. Once customer. One partner. One experience at a time" - Howard Schultz


At the heart of every merchant there is a desire to tell a story. Whether it's through the music, the decor, the products you sell etc. it all accumulates to what the story you want to portray to the consumer. As long as you are authentic, add value to a group of people and do it consistently you will be successful.


The fact that they referred to each of their employees no matter how low of a position as a 'partner'. The barista, the cashier, the stock boy and even the janitor. By doing this they reframed the employee's view on themselves and where they fit in with the company. It unified them and it helped in creating a very loyal employee pool. 


I definitely learned a lot from this book on branding, running a massive company and how important integrity is in business. At times this book was a tad too promotional as he dived into his products and offerings a lot but I just skimmed over those parts. This is a great book for if you are looking for a case study on how to rebrand a company. I would give this book 4 green tea lattes out of 5. 

Get this book here