Onward By Howard Schultz – Book Review

Onward By Howard Schultz – Book Review

Onward is not what I thought it would be. I assumed it would be the story of Howard Schultz, from childhood to present day, which we commonly see in books from successful business personalities. In this book, Howard Schultz gave some background on his life story but really chose to focus on a short period of time at Starbucks – really focusing in on 2007-2010. In this short period, Schultz oversaw a multitude of problems at Starbucks – responding in ways aimed at keeping Starbucks core values intact. He ultimately was extremely successful, but there were many doubters and naysayers along the way.

He paints Starbucks in an interesting light. He views it as a people company that serves coffee, not a coffee company with people – a really great viewpoint. It’s very similar to how Tony Hsieh viewed Zappos – as a customer service company that happens to sell shoes. I love this attitude as it can permeate from the top down and give large organizations a shared vision. Treat the customer right and you’ll give yourself a chance to succeed, no matter what you’re selling. Schultz reminds his employees that each interaction they have with a customer may be the only interaction that customer has with another human being all day – so making it count can help the world be a much better place while representing Starbucks in a good way as well.

As a marketer, I found their marketing approach interesting. “Brand Sparks” aims to capitalize on subtle, surprising and rare marketing events that are linked to cultural or humanitarian issues. Offering free coffee to anyone who voted in 2008 was an example of this. Starbucks aims to avoid any self-serving messages – something that really defined their strategy during this three year period, and beyond to an extent. They were an early brand to deploy a listen-first approach on social media, as opposed to simply shouting offers and promotions on Twitter. “As long as we engaged in conversations and didn’t offer coupons, we were winning.” I love this quote.

One last thing I really enjoyed was his outlook on pursuing goals. Schultz states that pursuing short-term goals is always short-sighted when talking about declining a deal with Blizzard Entertainment to capture a young, male audience. Sticking to your principals and focusing on the long-term is what helped Starbucks dig itself out of a challenging period, and it’s a good thing to remember when you’ve been offered a lucrative short-term opportunity.

Favorite quotes:

“Emotional connection is our true value proposition, not coffee.”

“Boards don’t exist to manage companies, they exist to make sure companies are well managed.”

Goodreads Rating: 3/5

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