With the coffee company Starbucks on its way to South African soil, Counting Coins took a look at Howard Schultz, the company’s CEO, and compiled a list of 10 valuable life lessons his career has taught us (so far).

1. Where you come from does not determine where you’re going

Like so many millionaires, Schultz did not start out rich. He was born in 1953, and at the age of three his family moved to the Bayview Housing projects in Canarsie, Brooklyn. He spent his entire childhood and teenage years in the housing project.

2. You are never too young to start working on your future

Howard was a great athlete from a very young age. Sports gave him the ability to escape his circumstances and eventually landed him a football scholarship at Northern Michigan University. The scholarship gave him his first push towards a successful career.

3. The bottom is a very good place to start

After completing his degree in communication, Howard got a job as a salesperson at Hammarplast, a company that sold coffeemakers. Through hard work he climbed the ladder and was promoted to a full sales representative, and eventually Director of Sales. His career advances at Hammerplast led to his introduction to Starbucks.

4. You don’t have to go far to spot an opportunity

While working at Hammerplast, Howard became fascinated by one of his clients; a small coffee bean shop called Starbucks Coffee Company in Seattle. He eventually expressed his interest in working for them, and was offered the job of Marketing Director. Spotting this opportunity put in motion what would become one of the greatest entrepreneurial successes of the 20th century.

5. Travelling is about more than sightseeing, it broadens your horizons

Howard came up with the idea of Starbucks, as we know it today, while visiting Italy. He noticed that Italy was full of espresso bars where people not only bought coffee, but also gathered for meetings or to socialise.

6. Risks are needed

After returning to the States, he tried to convince the owners of Starbucks to open up a coffee bar. The idea was, however, not met with enthusiasm from the owners. He then took the leap, left Starbucks and opened up his own coffee bar called Il Giornale. Two years later, Il Giornale purchased the original Starbucks company.

7. Doing good is good for your business

In March 2013, Schultz publicly declared that Starbucks supports the legalisation of gay marriage. Despite some homophobic backlash, the company still managed to offer shareholders a 38% shareholder return.

8. Profit is important, but should not be your sole focus

In a 2007 interview with Oprah, Shultz said that sales at Starbucks were suffering because they lost their way. “The pursuit of profit became our reason for being, and that’s not the reason that Starbucks is in business… We’re in the business of exceeding the expectations of our customers.”

Yes, you want to make money, and that is perfectly fine, but never forget the reasons why you love what you do.

9. Show interest in the people around you

Things would probably look very different if Howard Schultz did not pay close attention to his customers when he worked as a salesperson for Hammerplast.

Later in his life he took this same dedicated focus on people to the Starbucks brand. From baristas greeting customers by name, or writing their names on cups, to the company’s employee policies.

After he reached millionaire status he made it clear that everyone has a responsibility to pay attention to their communities. He was recently quoted as saying:

“It is no longer enough to serve customers, employees, and shareholders. As corporate citizens of the world, it is our responsibility – our duty – to serve the communities where we do business by helping to improve, for example, the quality of citizens’ education, employment, healthcare, safety, and overall daily life, plus future prospects.”

10. Don’t be afraid to get personal

During a talk at Harvard Business School, Schultz was asked if he could offer any life advice. His response:
“Don’t settle! Embrace a dream, and keep dreaming. Don’t be a bystander. Take it personally.”

About The Author

Enrique Grobbelaar

Enrique is the eternal entrepreneur: his first venture was selling off his parents’ household goods at bargain prices to their neighbours at age seven. All other endeavours thus far have been entirely above board.

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