A message from Howard Schultz: From Buffalo with love

A letter to U.S. Starbucks partners (employees) from Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder

Dear partners,

It was 40 years ago when I first crossed the threshold of our store at Pike Place, only beginning to imagine the possibilities of what this company could one day become. It had always been my dream to build a different kind of company – one where we create new opportunities for our people and build community, together, over coffee.

Over the years I’ve traveled all over the world to meet with our teams in over 80 markets. It has always energized me to meet with our partners and hear about their hopes and dreams. In this 50th year of the company’s existence, our Starbucks leaders have asked me to share our foundational stories around the world. It’s a privilege for me given my profound love for the company and what we have uniquely built together as partners over the years.

Today, I am writing to you from Buffalo, New York. Since my last trip here to meet with Store Managers in September, I have had the great privilege of hearing deeply personal stories about our Buffalo partners’ own journeys.

My purpose here has been to listen and learn. And to share with our partners - so many here who are new to the company - about the values and principles that have served as our foundation.

Buffalo in many ways is like so much of America today, navigating a confluence of social and economic challenges as we address the pandemic environment. Starbucks has not been immune from these challenges, and we have been dedicated across the country for much of the past year to focus on areas the company must improve in many of our stores. There is simply no better way to do this than to double down on our belief in servant leadership, ensuring we meet the expectations of our partners and customers in this next chapter.

I shared with our partners tonight who may not have known that I worked for so many years to build a company that my father never had a chance to work for. That as a blue-collar worker and veteran, he taught me the meaning of hard work after an on-the-job injury left our family without an income or insurance, literally no safety net. This traumatic moment fueled me to frame the vision and guiding principles of Starbucks, creating a company of partners that aspired to build a for-profit company imbued with love, social conscience and shared success based on shared responsibility.

Through our direct and shared relationship as partners we began to build a different kind of company, bringing to life:

  • Access to healthcare benefits for full- and part-time employees, long before the Affordable Care Act.
  • Equity in the form of Bean Stock starting in 1991, which turned employees into partners who could directly share in the company’s success. Over the years, I have heard so many stories about partners being able to pay for college, buy their first cars or homes, or support their extended families.
  • Our ethical sourcing (C.A.F.E.) practices that have helped support farmers and their families.
  • Community service over so many years and markets, and the C.U.P. Fund for partners in need.
  • Free college tuition through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.
  • Our commitments to recruiting, hiring and developing for inclusion and diversity.
  • Policies like paid parental leave and pay equity. And efforts like To Be Welcoming, our Civil Rights Assessment.
  • And our commitment to becoming a people and planet positive organization, giving more than we take from the planet and enhancing the lives of all who connect with Starbucks.

What the leadership team has done in Buffalo is what we have always done. We listen. We learn. We get better together. No partner has ever needed to have a representative seek to obtain things we all have as partners at Starbucks. And I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now. The rituals of the company for so many years include forums like we had tonight. And 1:1 and team conversations between district managers and store managers and baristas. The direct engagement is a true hallmark of Starbucks. Our leaders’ responsibility to practice servant leadership is an accountability that has zero compromise.

As I leave tonight, I can’t help but think how the success of our company has come from a simple truth.  That when we exceed the expectations of our people, they in turn exceed the expectations of our customers. This is what we know we need to continue to do in Buffalo and everywhere around the country. Leaders must learn from what is happening in Buffalo, and I know they are. I see the changes, commitments and engagement happening. And the leadership team and I will continue these forums around the country, creating more opportunities to learn from one another and improve. We must remember to earn success and trust each day, taking accountability and correcting when there are missteps.

I know deep in my heart that the best is yet to come for Starbucks. It remains my greatest aspiration that Starbucks partners will stay together carrying forward the legacy of working together with compassion and with love, and providing a welcoming and uplifting third place for one another and our customers. To every Starbucks partner, whether you are new to the company or you have been here for some time, this is our time to come together to show the world what it means to build a great and enduring company, unlike anything out there. Just we as partners, dreaming bigger than ever before.

With humility and love,

On November 6, 2021 Starbucks founder Howard Schultz spoke with Starbucks partners (employees) at a Partner Open Forum in Buffalo, N.Y.

See Highlights from the Conversation

Hear Howard on Starbucks Partner Benefits

Watch the Entire Open Forum