Photo essay: Starbucks China partners visit with Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus

On the heels of Starbucks 6,000 store opening in China, Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder and chairman emeritus, fulfilled a promise to visit and celebrate the partners of Starbucks fastest growing region.

Howard Schultz stood before the ballroom full of Starbucks partners (employees) in Beijing with one ask: Open your hearts to each other.

“Being authentic and being vulnerable is a strength, not a weakness. Being open and honest and sincere is a strength,” Schultz said at the Partner Open Forum, attended by 1,000 partners in person and another 15,000 who joined virtually. “Starbucks is at its best when we are embracing our humanity. And this whole room right now is based on that, our common humanity.”

The Starbucks founder and current board member was in China this week on the heels of Starbucks 6,000th store opening in China to fulfill a promise to visit and celebrate the partners of Starbucks fastest growing region.

Starbucks opened its first store in China in 1999 and has a rich history in the market based on cultural connection. In addition to the Partner Open Forum, this week Schultz visited stores to meet partners, to see the ways they are connecting with customers with the newly launched curbside service, and to hold a fireside chat with students at Peking University.

“There is a unique, loyal connection between Starbucks and the Chinese people. As I meet with partners and the China community, I am reminded how coffee is an international language, and it’s truly been the driving force for how we connect with our customers in the region,” said Schultz. “I am extremely proud of our team in China and our 60,000 Starbucks partners who exemplify the responsibility of wearing the green apron. We particularly saw their dedication during the three years of the pandemic, and they continue to show up for one another while delivering a world-class customer experience every day.”

Coming together

During the Partner Open Forum on Monday, Schultz talked about the love and responsibility he feels for all Starbucks partners and his appreciation for Belinda Wong, Starbucks China’s chief executive officer and her team.

As the company expands its footprint across the region, partners continue to be at the core of the Starbucks Experience in China. Since the beginning, Starbucks China’s mission has always been to take care of partners and their families, and help them realize their goals and career aspirations, he said.

During the pandemic, as China and other parts of the world experienced prolonged periods of shutting down, Wong and other leaders focused on prioritizing the health and welfare of partners and their families.

“It’s very easy to be a leader when you have the wind at your back. But a true leader – and in this case, the leadership team of China, shows up with their heart and their conscience and their commitment when the wind is in their face, when the challenges are so great,” he said. “And I’m so proud of the team and how we all showed up for each other at a time that was so excruciating.”

Schultz credited the partners for bringing customers back when Starbucks stores reopened. “I knew in my heart that Starbucks would come roaring back in China because of the people in this room, the 60,000 partners that you are representing, who wear the green apron,” he said. “And for that, I, with love in my heart, thank you so very much. Because I knew that when the pandemic ended, Starbucks would return to not only a healthier place, but a stronger place. And if anyone ever doubted that, they should be in this room right now and witnessing the extraordinary love that is in this room that you can't invent.”

During the open forum, partners shared their personal stories. One partner, who joined the company last August, shared that Starbucks is a place where they feel like they truly belong.  

“We know in the world, there is much resistance, but in Starbucks, whether its your ethnicity, gender or educational background, you join a team, enjoy your time, enjoy your work in Starbucks,” the partner said.  

Schultz stressed the importance of partners bringing their true selves to work and to support others in doing the same. “You understand that Starbucks Coffee Company’s best days are not because we're chasing money, but our best days are because we are lifting each other up,” he said.

Conversation with China’s Gen Z

Investing in education is deeply rooted in Starbucks mission globally. This week, Schultz led a fireside chat with 300 students at Peking University, one of the top public universities in China, to discuss the history of Starbucks China and the importance of putting people over profit. Students also had a chance to taste coffee made with different brewing methods by Starbucks partners.

“I’ve talked to Starbucks partners and customers from all over the world and at the end of the day, it’s clear to me that we are more similar than we are different,” he told the students. “We all have the same dreams: to make our families proud, have joy in our lives and to make an impact in the world. Coffee brings people together. It's a sense of community, it’s a human connection, it’s humanity. To be in the people business, you have to know your people and connect them to a core purpose and a reason for being that they can see themselves in.”

Listening and learning

At both Starbucks Kerry Center location, the company’s first flagship store in Beijing in 2013, and Heritage Culture store, Schultz had the opportunity to meet a number of partners, and thank them for their resiliency and commitment to each other and their communities. Schultz learned about the many ways partners lifted each other up through small and big acts.

One partner, who has been with Starbucks eight years, shared a story about how one day, early in her career at Starbucks, her manager pulled her aside and she was nervous until she realized that her manager knew it was her birthday and wanted to acknowledge and celebrate it.

“It's just a little thing,” said Schultz, “but it's just acknowledging and recognizing someone for who they are.”

2,500 Greener Stores

Since Starbucks opened its first store in the Chinese mainland in 1999, the company has focused on not only providing great food and beverages to consumers, but has also has been at the forefront of retail innovation and sustainability in China.

Starbucks has a goal of operating 2,500 Greener Stores in the Chinese mainland by 2025. In support of Starbucks 2030 goals of reducing carbon, water and waste footprints by 50 percent, the open-source Greener Stores Framework was co-developed with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The framework includes a set of 25 performance-based standards across environmental impact areas such as energy efficiency, water stewardship, and waste diversion, designed to accelerate the transformation of retail towards lower-impact stores.

Shaking Up the Chinese Coffee Ritual

Starbucks Oleato, an innovative alchemy of the finest arabica coffee infused with Partanna extra virgin olive oil, has rolled out across more than 60 stores in Asia. As the company continues to expand its availability, partners in China had a unique opportunity to taste the company’s latest beverage innovation this week.

While we’re excited to introduce the transformational innovation, Oleato beverages are not yet available in Chinese stores.

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New Starbucks merch collaboration celebrates togetherness and joy in the everyday