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Starbucks: Don’t Close the Stores, Close Corporate Headquarters

Starbucks CEO has an epic fail in grappling with his racism problem. He is unprepared, and has no clue about how to be prepared. Don't expect this to end well.

In the aftermath of the racist incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks store, the company is going to close 8,000 Starbucks stores on May 29th for hastily prepared diversity training.

It's a mistake.

If there was a problem with the temperature of the milk used to put in coffee, it would take them longer to study the problem than six weeks, and they wouldn't hire celebrities (Eric Holder?) in an attempt to give them credibility. The speed at which they are doing this says to me that this is a PR reaction. But it's not a PR problem. As evidenced by the poor human capital results on their own corporate leadership page (57 people pictured, 19 women, three Blacks, no apparent Latinxs), the corporate culture needs to be repaired from the head down — as it does for all strategic business problems.

Why would senior leadership think it was okay to rush into diversity training with just six weeks' preparation after a major traumatic event? White privilege.

I would assume the CEO of Starbucks is a nice man. Unfortunately, however, Kevin Johnson has no apparent connections with diversity. He spent 16 years at Microsoft, a company with a poor record for developing women, Blacks and Latinos. He was also CEO of Juniper Networks for five years — a company with no women, Blacks or Latinos in the 10 executives pictured on their leadership page. Johnson apparently has no national philanthropic connections to broaden his experience — no national nonprofit board seats, no named scholarships or endowments that I could find. This doesn't make him a bad guy, but with his background, can he really lead an 8,000-store diversity effort with 175,000 employees with six weeks' notice?


His background is just fine if Starbucks' goal is to serve coffee to just white men. However, Starbucks' stock has been skidding sideways for three years; I doubt that's what the board of directors wants him to do. I don't think the board cares particularly about diversity either (after the #RaceTogether incident, you would think they would've gotten serious), but they do care about coffee sales.

So why has the board of directors approved this move to close 8,000 stores? White privilege.

Johnson was interviewed by Don Lemon on CNN two days ago — Don Lemon tried to get Johnson to speak with clarity on the reason the Philadelphia incident happened. Johnson said, "There's something in our society we need to take seriously." But when Lemon pressed him to say what that "something serious" is, Johnson changed the subject to talk about closing all the stores.


The first step to fixing Starbucks' culture is to admit it. Plainly. Clearly. Since the CEO has no apparent understanding of the target of the overwhelming majority of racism in this country, to fix the problem at his company, he needs to get some background. It starts with the CEO (not with the stores) and it can't be done by proxy. So the next time a Black man asks you what the problem is, you'll be able to answer him with clarity and honesty. If you have no clarity and honesty, you cannot expect to lead an effort to bring clarity and honesty to the customer-facing people of your business. You need to give up the concept that your white privilege entitles you to be an expert on the subject. You aren't an expert, this wasn't an isolated incident and you're doing your customers and shareholders a disservice.

The Conversation (5)
22 Apr, 2018
Luke, Thank you very much for your commentary and perspective on this. What is even more disturbing is the editorializing by Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz revealing a self-serving approach to “reconciliation” between two men who had no idea that they were at risk through a routine request and subjective refusal by a supposed ‘manager’ not allowing them to use the public restroom as well as her motivation within two minutes to summon Philadelphia police to exercise the most punitive response. Sending a message to who she deemed subordinate and the need to remove them from her presence and to put them in their place – lockup. Schultz’ default response editorializing his apathy for her and saying how she ‘probably’ feels bad and wants to reconcile is completely opposite of the truth. He has now culturally mandated compliance from two guys that did nothing wrong but now if they somehow don't immediately jump at the chance to sit down with her and have her poor little privileged self come up with bogus justifications as to why she did what she did seeking validation not only for her but indirectly for Schultz/Starbucks too. Don't be surprised if she seeks legal counsel and counter sues Starbucks saying corporate training was somehow ambiguous and gave her discretion in doing this crap. Now there's more information about this manager's true disdain for minorities from a former employee that was abused by her. Also in Starbucks rush to do damage control did they neglect to see just how many ‘trespassing’ phone calls she placed routinely summoning Philadelphia Police? This emotional connection Schultz established for an employee whose actions are despicable speak to his comfort level coming to the aid of this poor misguided damsel offering a Come to Jesus moment that he's trying to construct. This overt enabling is what the African-American consumer is sick of and we reject wholeheartedly. It is getting us locked up and killed on a daily basis. He's the one who needs cultural diversity training that he should seek from one of his board members Roslyn Brower if not additional. Schultz owes the African-American community an apology by not strongly emphasizing Starbucks immediate rejection of this woman as a former employee proven to be completely unfit to be a representative of their company. Instead Schultz passive aggressively elicits double jeopardy for people of color to be victimized if not physically but financially and emotionally through his cultural naivete. We have the responsibility of immediate forgiveness let bygones be bygones which has to be carried out in as few new cycles as possible…could use stronger language but I'll just say that is gross. These men were minding their own business and now they have another national spotlight on them so NOW if they don't cede to HIS approach ASAP they will be typecast as ungrateful opportunistic angry black men. Suppose you want to have cameras and a film crew there to capture the best optics for your Kumbaya moment? Not one white person can would ever have to think that if they request access to a public bathroom that they won't be given access the same as anyone else, in addition that they will be criminalized and civil liberties will be removed and MAYBE restored hours later. This is the cultural battle the people color always have to navigate since we have no idea when the marginalizing disrespect emerges and being conditioned in real time de-escalation strategies. You can never reveal what your true outrage is. When comedian Chris Rock gives irreverent comment about being Black in America is “having an uncle that puts you through college and molests you along the way”. We get it… And we get it on a routine basis daily, weekly, cyclically. Continual overt examples of this racist behavior, take your pick – LA Fitness anyone? Again we get it this administration is just like a truth serum and brings out the overt disdain and the real devaluation of people outside your tribe. In our community were brought up to know not just where to go but more importantly where not to go. The Black community is not naïve enough to think that this is how Starbucks conducts business. We know this loser was just a hater chick and there are more like her in the shadows until the next aha moment. The scary thing is she's not some old crusty baby boomer from some backwoods area. Urban Philly is about is culturally diverse as it gets so where she got her primary or formal education she brought her hate with her and brewed up and dished it out until outed publicly. I believe Starbucks and the African-American community do not have the corporate responsibility of solving this hate issue but people like the chairman Schultz don't know the real deal are doing more harm than good and THEY need to be educated ASAP. Luke, hope you can give this guy some insight if he & others in his position will listen. Luke, Thanks for your commitment to accountability!!
Jayme S. Ganey20 Apr, 2018
Most of us are probably supporting businesses that don’t prioritize diversity. But bringing attention to it clearly gets the leadership talking when dollars are potentially at stake. Calling leaders out needs like this may be the match that lights the fire.
Kevin Canessa19 Apr, 2018
Luke -- what do you suggest consumers do here? I love certain Starbucks beverages, but is it wrong to support a business with such a tone-deaf CEO and one who clearly has no apparent diversity training and no clue about diversity management?

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