Leadership Lessons from Starbucks
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives
Great leaders are not just willing to adapt to the changing dynamics of the marketplace – they are eager to do so. How that lesson played out for Starbucks over 20 years ago is relevant for advisors today.
In 1996, Starbucks opened their first store outside of North America in Tokyo. Howard Behar was the founding president of Starbucks International (Howard Shultz was running all of Starbucks). At the time, he conceded that he was “angry all the time,” a characteristic that seems unfathomable 22 years later for a man who today embodies the definition of a “servant leader.”
But back then, Behar was dealing with pressing deadlines and a multitude of challenges, including dealing with the complexity of Japanese regulations. Bringing the Seattle-based company to Japan meant overcoming import-export rules, including exporting Italian espresso machines to Tokyo. The Japanese government made Starbucks take the machine apart and grind down every single piece to determine the material composition.
This sent Behar into a tirade until a team member showed him a Chinese character with the translation:
Big noise on stairs. Nothing coming down.
The response struck him in such a way that his anger melted into laughter and triggered reflection on his leadership style.
He changed his perspective and decided to embrace challenging rules so much that Starbucks would exceed any standards, not just meet them. This served as a defining moment in Behar’s incredible leadership journey that would help propel Starbucks from 28 stores to 15,000 across five continents.