Isaac Watson calls it “a family within a family.”
A 10-year active-duty member of the U.S. Army and current Army reservist, Captain Watson looked around a meeting room at the Starbucks Kent Flexible Plant (formerly the Kent Roasting Plant) outside of Seattle, where he was joined by five other members of the maintenance crew who also have military backgrounds. He tried to sum up the group’s esprit de corps.
“We have a camaraderie that some people might not understand,” Watson explained. Before he is able to describe their boisterous back-and-forth, Brad Flanagan, a retired Marine and senior member of the group, said under his breath: “We do.”
Watson and Flanagan are two members of a sizable crew of maintenance supervisors, mechanics and technicians at the Kent manufacturing and distribution facility with military backgrounds. Of the 26 mechanics at Kent, 10 have served in the military. Of the 33 partners (employees) in the maintenance department as a whole, 15 are former military service members. Starbucks is sharing their story as the U.S. marks National Military Appreciation Month and celebrates Armed Forces Day (May 20).
David Griffins, plant maintenance manager and five-year member of the U.S. Army, was the lone veteran working in the facility when he first started 13 years ago.
“We got a couple of military maintenance guys in here and they were incredible,” Griffins said. “They bring great attitudes and great core foundation training. Bringing people in with that background just seemed to be natural for this plant.”
Starbucks recruiting manager Tom Tice was hiring for the Kent plant when the current crew began to take shape. Tice, who served more than two decades in the Marine Corps, knew Flanagan from when they were both Marine recruiters.
“In the Marine Corps, when we recruited candidates we identified what their needs were,” Tice said. “It’s a three-tier process: What is your need? Why is that important to you? And what does that mean to you in the future? The approach is similar for recruiting veteran candidates at Starbucks."
A Skillset and a Mindset
Joint Base Lewis–McChord, a 40-minute drive from the roasting and distribution plant, has provided a pipeline of technical talent. Flanagan, who worked as a defense contractor on the base after retiring from the military, brought in Brandon Bonnette, an Army veteran and maintenance mechanic at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle, as well former Marine James Elzie, a maintenance technician at Kent. Nick Phillips, who spent seven years in the Army, was brought aboard by 10-year Army veteran Dana Harp, his supervisor in the military.
Connections, however, will only take you so far. The skills maintenance specialists with a military background bring with them have proved invaluable in keeping the Kent facility – the oldest of the company’s five U.S. roasting plants -- operating efficiently.
“The thing that appeals to us is they bring a skillset and training from the military that’s on a higher level,” Griffins said, adding that the helicopter maintenance men in the group – Flanagan, Bonnette and Lee Richards, who officially retires from the Army in June – are emblematic of what Starbucks finds in military-trained personnel.
“The tasks they have as a helicopter mechanic is all-inclusive,” Griffins said. “And to get them is actually difficult. Once they get out of the military, there are a lot of civilian contractors who want their services.”
“A helicopter is a series of different processes that all have to work simultaneously,” Flanagan remarks after pondering the connection between a twin-engine chopper and the kind of machinery he deals with these days. “The coffee roasting and packaging equipment we have here is a serious conglomeration of processes as well. You’ve got mechanical components. You’ve got pneumatic components. You’ve got an automation piece. And it’s all got to be blended seamlessly. It’s not seamless, which is why we’re here and why we have jobs."
About Starbucks Commitment to Hiring Veterans
Starbucks is creating opportunity for veterans and military spouses as they transition from military service to civilian careers. Starbucks has hired more than 6,500 veterans and military spouses toward a commitment of hiring at least 10,000 by the end of 2018. Read more here: Paying Tribute and Creating Opportunity