Starbucks VP Speech at Newhouse

On Friday, James Olson, Vice President, Global Public Relations for Starbucks Coffee Company, came to campus to present his talk, “Enlightened Leadership: How to Turn a Company into a Movement”.

It was a story about how the company, according to media reports, was in dire straits in October 2008. The stock was tumbling so Howard Schultz came back to take charge.

The company held a giant meeting of store managers in New Orleans to try to reboot Starbucks’ brand identity and increase employee morale.

He showed a video about the national training event that ended with the message “People started coming back to the stores and we showed up again.”

The company at the same time introduced a new mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit: one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time.”

The company’s sales and stock price improved and crisis was averted.

Olson then discussed Howard Schultz’ campaign to pressure other corporate CEOs to not give contributions to political campaigns until Congress made progress in helping improve the economy. One hundred and forty CEOs signed on but it was largely a failed exercise. Schultz then wanted to help bring jobs back to the US and Starbucks started the Jobs for USA campaign to get people to donate to an organization that finances small businesses that couldn’t get loans from banks. It raised $50 million in donations and helped create thousands of jobs.

He then showed a video of American Mug & Stein which Create Jobs for USA helped to reinvigorate which led to many jobs being saved in the US.

He ended with a video about the company’s investment in a Leadership Lab to help make its front-line employees into brand evangelists.

Overall it was a pretty compelling talk. As a teenager I worked at the company for about nine months as a Barista at a very busy location (that’s the point, isn’t it?) so I knew about the company. His presentation was successful, by measure of crowd applause and reaction on Twitter in turning a roomful of people who may have just been dependent on coffee into people who were convinced in the worth of the company and some who said they wanted to work there because of his presentation.