Jonathan Hart

Starbucks: Dont Close the Stores, Close Corporate Headquarters

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

No.

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.

IT’S RACISM KEVIN.

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.

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