The Road to Success: The Story of Howard Schultz and Starbucks

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Few companies have a story as captivating as Starbucks and few leaders as inspiring as Howard Schultz. Today, Starbucks is more than a coffeehouse – it’s a global phenomenon and a part of daily life for millions of people around the world. The credit for this extraordinary journey goes largely to one man: Howard Schultz. Let’s delve into his inspiring story and the key lessons we can learn from it.

Early Life: A Tale of Humble Beginnings

Howard Schultz was born in 1953, into a poor family in Brooklyn, New York. His family lived in public housing and Schultz saw his father, a truck driver, struggling with low pay and lack of benefits. These early experiences imbued Schultz with a deep sense of empathy and a determination to create a different kind of company – one that took care of its employees.

Finding Starbucks

In 1981, while working as a director of retail operations and marketing for a Swedish kitchenware company, Schultz first encountered Starbucks. At the time, Starbucks was a small Seattle-based retailer selling coffee beans and coffee-making equipment.

Schultz was intrigued by the company’s passion for coffee and saw potential for something more. He envisioned creating a vibrant, community-focused coffeehouse culture like he had seen during a trip to Italy. 

A Detour and a Triumph

Unable to persuade the original owners of Starbucks to pursue his vision, Schultz left the company in 1985 to start his own coffeehouse chain, Il Giornale. Two years later, with the backing of local investors, he acquired Starbucks for $3.8 million and merged it with Il Giornale. This was the turning point that laid the foundation for the Starbucks we know today.

Building a Global Brand

As CEO, Schultz began expanding rapidly, opening stores across the U.S. and then internationally. But it wasn’t just about expansion – Schultz was committed to creating a unique Starbucks experience, a ‘third place’ between home and work, where customers could relax, enjoy a great cup of coffee, and feel a sense of community.

He also introduced innovative employee benefits, including comprehensive health coverage and stock options, even for part-time workers – a reflection of his commitment to worker welfare ingrained from his early life experiences.

The Legacy of Howard Schultz

Schultz stepped down as CEO in 2000, returned in 2008 to guide the company through the financial crisis, and then again stepped down in 2017. However, his influence continues to shape the company.

Under Schultz’s visionary leadership, Starbucks transformed from a small local business into a global powerhouse with over 30,000 stores worldwide, recognized for both its brand and its commitment to employees.

Lessons from Howard Schultz’s Journey

  1. Passion and Vision: Schultz’s passion for coffee and his vision for a coffeehouse culture were key drivers of Starbucks’ success.
  2. Employee-Centric Leadership: Schultz demonstrated that investing in employees can yield tangible business benefits.
  3. Perseverance: Despite initial setbacks, Schultz never gave up on his dream, showing the power of persistence.
  4. Innovation and Experience: Schultz realized early on that selling coffee wasn’t just about the product, but about the experience, revolutionizing the coffeehouse concept.

Howard Schultz’s journey embodies the spirit of the American Dream. He showed that with a clear vision, unshakeable passion, a commitment to people, and relentless perseverance, it is possible to transform a small local operation into a beloved global brand. His story serves as a testament to aspiring entrepreneurs that success isn’t just about profits, but about creating value and making a difference.


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