Top 10 moments from Starbucks Leadership Experience in Chicago

CHICAGO – What happens when you bring 12,000 Starbucks partners together for a three-day leadership experience? As it turns out – it’s conversations, connections and a whole lot of coffee.

Here are a few of the highlights from the 2019 Starbucks Leadership Experience in Chicago, which concluded today.

Kicking things off

Twelve thousand store managers and field leaders from across the United States and Canada arrived at McCormick Center for the Leadership Experience, where they were greeted with cheers, high-fives and pompoms.

Helping hand

On Wednesday, store managers took part in a community open house. The event was designed to give them community service tools and resources to bring back to their own neighborhoods, such as Mercy Corps, Feeding America and the Kindness Rocks project. Partners also helped nominate 500 community organizations across the U.S. and Canada, which will be awarded $1,500 each - a total investment of $750,000. At the open house, they also voted with tokens to help direct Starbucks Foundation dollars toward their favorite social impact causes. The top three were hunger, Opportunity Youth and sustainability. 

Coffee for 12,000

At Starbucks, it is customary that most meetings start with a coffee tasting. The opening general session was no exception, with the nearly 12,000 partners in attendance, believed to be one of the world’s largest simultaneous coffee tastings. At the closing session, the crowd tasted a single-origin bean from Hacienda Alsacia, Starbucks’ coffee farm in Costa Rica, in tribute to the 400,000 farmers and families that supply the company with beans.

Doing the shuffle

Starbucks chief operating officer and group president Roz Brewer joined Trenton store manager Stephanie Campfield on stage to lead the opening general session in the “Cupid Shuffle.” Campfield started an open mic night at her store, held each Saturday, which has a tradition of ending with everyone doing the dance together. 

Getting the keys

Starbucks chief executive officer Kevin Johnson awarded a ceremonial key to the original Pike Place Market store to each attendee of the conference. “The 1912 key is a symbol of the journey we have been on as a company over the last 48 years,” he said. “But this key is also the key to our future. As your partner I want you to know this – I believe in you. The 1912 key, the power of one.”

The journey of coffee

At the Experience Hall, partners followed the bean through each stage of coffee’s journey, starting at a replica of Starbucks coffee farm at Hacienda Alsacia in Costa Rica. Carlos Mario Rodriguez, Starbucks director of global research and development, and Victor Trejos, general manager of the coffee farm and Global Agronomy Center, at Hacienda Alsacia talked with partners about their work with farmers.

Seeing double

The original Pike Place Market store in Seattle attracts so many visitors that there’s often a long line just to get in. Conference organizers found a creative solution to this same problem in the Experience Hall by building two side-by-side replicas that partners could walk through. The stores even featured the wear on the wooden counters in the exact places as the original store.

Innovation to action in 100 days

The Experience Hall also featured a paired down version of the Tryer Center, a center for innovation at the Starbucks Support Center, the company’s headquarters, in Seattle, where partners are encouraged to try new things and move from an idea to action in 100 days, refining along the way. In the Experience Hall, partners saw exhibits such as a mock up for solar panels that will soon be piloted in some stores in California, worked with industrial designers to reimagine how the space in their stores could be used and used a laser cutter to create new tools.

Breaking the mental health stigma

At the closing general session, Rossann Williams, who leads the Starbucks U.S. retail business, shared that the company is committed to help break the stigma of mental health and get partners and their loved ones the support they need. She announced Starbucks will be expanding mental health benefits to U.S. partners, one of the top benefit requests made by partners. “Today we are taking a stand,” she said. “We believe in breaking the stigma around mental health.”

Writing the next chapter

Johnson reflected on his first leadership conference as Starbucks chief executive officer – and shared his dreams for the company’s next 50 years. “This Leadership Experience is all about community, making connections, sharing the energy, and inspiring one another,” he said, before leaving the stage Friday to a standing ovation.