The Success Tips

Starbucks has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

The angel works to guide Starbucks toward its better instincts: to retain the vision that impresario Howard Schultz had of re-creating a European café for an American (and now a worldwide) clientele, a “third place” that’s neither work nor home, where you can take your time, and where you pay more for coffee than you would at the deli down the street.

On the other shoulder, a devil whispers of the temptations of growth. The desire to grow pulls Starbucks, and all companies, toward the logic of scale — repeatability, robust processes, efficiency, speed. Growth in and of itself is a good thing; but it can go wrong if growth and scale come at the expense of vision, identity, or customer experience.

Few companies have resolved the tension between identity and growth as successfully as Starbucks. So as Schultz prepares to leaves the CEO post to head up the company’s new, ultra-upscale Starbucks Reserve venture, it’s worth reflecting on what he has accomplished — not just for coffee drinkers but for business thinkers — and why his vision can endure beyond his tenure.

 

Beyond Beans

Schultz was a master of what is now called service design long before the phrase came to be. Like the cafés Schultz sought to emulate, service design — what a business does to set and meet the expectations of the customers it wants — has its roots is Europe.

Everything about Starbucks — from the Italian names for small, medium, and large-size drinks to a carefully considered counter height that lets you see the baristas work to hundreds of combinations like half-caf-latte-with-two-shots that let you personalize your beverage to the nth degree — was designed to make the customer slow down and smell the coffee, in a distinctly European way.