Sunday, February 22, 2009

Great brands deserve great leaders

I want to thank everyone for their comments and emails to my last post, “Instant Controversy” - the introduction of Starbucks instant coffee.

I agree with most of the points raised, but perhaps we’ve all missed something important. Sometimes when a team is down, what you need is a win to build momentum. Starbucks has been battered by a string of losses. Jobs have been slashed and close to a 1000 stores closed. For those who remain, trust has been broken. Morale is at a historic low.

I’m not saying that the introduction of an instant coffee will bring back the magic, but it could serve as a rallying point for the people who make up Starbucks.

What Schultz needs to do is believe in his people once again, because it’s their creativity and hard work that’s given Starbucks the success it’s enjoyed. Howard Behar, one of Starbucks’ original thought leaders, often shared the belief that a great leader creates an environment where people can bring their “souls to work”. Just as a sports team can’t rely upon a single point or guard to carry the game, it’s the core and the motivation of the entire team that matters.

"The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves." - J. Carla Northcott

So when Schultz talks about getting back to the core, he should remember that the core is the people. And the people are the team.

Or as Howard Behar, also said…..It’s not about the coffee.

Great brands deserve great leaders.


  1. I agree that great brands deserve great leaders. My question is where is the leadership. It seems to me (IMHO) that Starbucks in trying to get through the crisis by incrementing itself; rather than by taking bold action.

    I'm a huge hockey fan, and to take the sports analogy The Washington Capitals were worse than where Starbucks is right now. So they fired the coach (leader) and brought a new one in (Bruce Boudreau). Boudreau knew he had to recapture the morale and the belief of his team. How did he do it? By defining THE place they were going to win. He identified the one thing they would focus on, and they built everything else upon it. The Capitals became the first team in history to go from being in last place (in the NHL) at Thanksgiving to make the playoffs.

    That's what leadership is about - defining what winning is; defining the one thing. Marcus Buckingham talks about that in his book The One Thing You Need To Know.

    So what is Starbucks one thing now? What is winning?

  2. Love this - where people can bring their “souls to work”.

    At the end of the day we must recognized that everyone is a volunteer...even if you pay their salary.

    If you want me to bring my creative energy, my attentive insights and yes, even my "soul" to work then create a place where my soul won't be crushed.

    People are not stupid. They know when you think highly of them.

    My mind is racing...thanks for the post.

    Keep creating...a story worth repeating,

  3. Hi Doug - as one born in the great white north, I appreciate the hockey analogy.

    Last time I watched a hockey game, "THE Place" where you won was on the ice rink by hitting that hard black thing called a puck into the white net before you got clobbered (checked I think they call it)by the opposing team.


    In my view (IMHO), a great leader sets the vision, hires the right people and gets out of the way.

    I think the "The Thing", the vision if you will, is creating a great experience for customers. If that was the compass by which all decisions were made (versus the stock price for example), I bet everyone would know exactly what to do.

    thank you for your thoughtful commentary.

  4. I think that Howard Shultz is an iconic leader almost to the level of a Jobs or Gates, but based on his recent decisions, I don't have confidence that he can turn Starbucks around like the Capitals coach did. I thought the reason for him coming back was to refocus Starbucks on their roots and bring back the experience. You can not have a Starbucks experience in your home, making instant coffee.

  5. Great blog. I don't get the big kerfuffle about Via. I blogged about it here -

    Basically, being from over yonder (Australia) I'm very used to instant coffee and I'll definitely be tasting Via. I'm also praying they'll bring out instant Signature Hot Chocolate as I'm hooked!

  6. Hi Karin, an interesting topic.
    We are practitioners of sales- marketing and write from time to time. A note called ENGAGE-EDUCATE-ENTERTAIN we wrote some time ag would be relevant.

    Great brands and great leaders, we believe are quite similar. They build their success on the ability to engage, educate, entertain.

    Brands that rise to prominence, have a deep understanding of emerging or unsatisfied consumer needs. (they engage consumers through observations/ market research).

    Then, they build a new solution for the market...they educate the market with new possibilities.

    And they share a communication platform which is current/ entertaining and relevant.

    Great business leader do the same. In fact, when companies lay off staff, its because the leader has failed firstly to educate himself of how the market and his consumers are moving. Then he has failed to engage with his employees to understand how their skills actually fit into the emerging future...and if a course correction is needed.

    More often than not, leaders are trapped in their own success, fail to see changes...and let themselves down, as well as thousands of employees that place their trust in them.

    Grand brands not only need great leaders, they can only be created and sustained by great leaders.

    Why stop at Starbucks. For our money Nokia..even Apple are at risk today of losing touch of what consumers need. Time will tell.

    Ritu Venkatesh Rangachari