Starbucks Marine Veteran Testifies before a Senate Committee

Matt Kress, manager of Veterans and Military Affairs for Starbucks, testified today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Along with five others representing veterans service organizations and corporations, Kress answered a question the committee posed: Is transition assistance on track?

Chairman Issakson, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Murray and members of the Committee – thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the Starbucks commitment to hire and honor 10,000 veterans and military spouses. As a post 9/11 combat veteran, your action on behalf of veterans and military families is much appreciated.

With a desire to serve something greater than myself, I spent 22 years in the Marine Corps – enlisted and commissioned officer, active duty and reserve. After a special operations deployment to Iraq in 2004, I left active duty to be a firefighter in Southern California and remained in the Reserves. During this time, I used the Post 9/11 GI Bill to earn a master's degree from the University of Washington and an MBA from UCLA.

Like many who have served, I have seen more than my share of sacrifice and valor, and I am here today as a proud veteran. I am grateful for the support of my government and I am honored to help Starbucks, and this committee, make successful transitions the norm. Long before I joined Starbucks, the company was listening to its veterans, partnering with the government and veterans service organizations, and receiving guidance from an incredible group of leaders, such as former Secretary Robert Gates, who sits on the Starbucks Board, General retired Peter Chiarelli, and many others as we continue to deepen our commitment to veterans and military spouses.

'We hire them because they make us better'

I would like to share with you today some of the ways Starbucks is supporting the transition of veterans.The commitment begins with our veterans hiring initiative. With the support of organizations such as Hiring Our Heroes, we are more than halfway to our goal of hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2018. Many companies hire veterans. What makes Starbucks commitment unique is that we are not just hiring; we are honoring and creating career opportunities for veterans, their spouses, families and connecting service members with their communities.

Let me talk for just a moment about honoring. Starbucks made it clear from the beginning that we welcome veterans and military spouses not out of a sense of obligation or patriotism, but because we need them. They reinforce our values of service, community, responsibility. Our ceo, Howard Schultz, often says, “We hire them because they make us better."

Starbucks is equally committed to hiring military spouses and retaining them as they move from one duty station to another. We are proud to work with Blue Star Families because we know nothing will support a military family more than hiring talented military spouses who are growing their own careers.

We believe we are in a unique position with our national footprint in 7,000 communities to address the core reason why veterans struggle in their transition: There is a cultural divide that separates the 1 percent who have voluntarily served from the 99 percent who have not. Let me briefly mention two ways we are bringing communities together to bridge this divide.

The first way is through Starbucks Military Family Stores. Working with military and veterans service organizations, Starbucks has dedicated 16 Military Family Stores, with plans to have 30 across the country by the end of 2016. A second way we are bridging the divide is through an unprecedented meeting of the minds. Starbucks recently brought together the nation’s leading advocates for veterans and spouses, including officials from the DOD/DOL/VA, the head of the USO and Secretary Gates to talk about how we can address this cultural issue at the root of transition problems. We called the meeting the “Muster” because it took an honest accounting of our national state of readiness when it comes to our veterans. We resolve to make a list of recommendations to you and the White House when we “muster” again here in Washington, D.C., in April.

'Starbucks has learned a lot on its journey'

Starbucks has many other initiatives to support transitioning veterans, spouses and the community. I have more details in my full testimony that I’d like to have submitted for the record. These initiatives include the recent expansion of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, now enabling a veteran to give their Starbucks-funded tuition-free education through ASU to a spouse or child.

Starbucks has learned a lot on its journey, and we’re just getting started. We’ve learned every veteran is different. The stereotypes ­– positive or negative ­– do not help transitioning vets. Each one has a different experience, aspiration, capability and motivation. We need to treat veterans as individuals and human beings, not super humans or victims. Second, a company’s effort to help transitioning veterans must be led from the top and the bottom. We depend on our veteran employee network to help advise and guide our corporate efforts, and mentor new hires. At the top of our company, the Starbucks ceo has made this a priority. I call on more CEOs to follow his example and embrace these challenges. Or in his words: “Make it personal.”

Finally, I want to thank the leadership of this committee and its members for your efforts and the opportunity to work together. Starbucks knows that you also have “made it personal."

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Starbucks Milano Duetto – an innovative ode to coffee, arts and culture