David and Tom Gardner recently interviewedStarbucks(Nasdaq: SBUX)Chairman Howard Schultz onThe Motley Fool Radio Showon NPR. This is the fourth of five parts.
TMF: Howard, where did your vision for Starbucks come from?
Schultz: You know, I took a trip to Italy in the early '80s and that was kind of the epiphany. But I think my vision for Starbucks happened a long time before that, and I was just trying to create a company with a conscience. I grew up on the other side of the tracks; my dad never made more than $20,000 a year, and I saw firsthand the fracturing of the American dream when there wasn't a lot of money to go around and never believed I would be in the position that I am today. I think the vision for the company of trying to create a company that is based on a set of values and a culture in which people are respected in the workplaces is really based on where I came from. Trying to build a company that has a soul.
TMF: Howard Schultz, looking back on your time with Starbucks and at Starbucks, what has been your smartest and your dumbest business decision?
Schultz: Well, the smartest one is, and this is going to sound trite, but I am very serous about it, is investing ahead of the growth curve and specifically identifying and bringing people into the company with experience and skills and insight well beyond my own. We never would have gotten to where we are today if we did not make that decision.
The second was providing ownership to every single employee so that everyone had a stake in the outcome. I think success is best when it is shared.
My worst decision, let's see. It wasn't a decision, it was an argument about nonfat milk. (Laughs.) I, as a coffee purist, believed at the time that we shouldn't dilute the milk with nonfat milk because the coffee taste would be altered. I forgot the golden rule that the customer is always right. Nonfat milk was a big idea for us. Looking back it should have been a very simple decision, but my own thoughts got in the way of the customer at the time.
Tomorrow: Howard Schultz plays Buy, Sell or Hold on the art of tipping, Ralph Nader, and Martha Stewart.