Starbucks For America

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from TIME Magazine,

Howard Schultz is transforming his company. Changing the country is going to be harder.

Howard Schultz isn’t afraid of his feelings. Or anybody else’s, for that matter.

The 61-year-old Starbucks CEO doesn’t mind tears or hugs or displays of emotion of any kind. This is front and center on an icy January afternoon in New York City, where Schultz is leading a forum on race. Shocked by recent police shootings and unrest in Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Oakland, Calif., he decided to hold open meetings in five cities where Starbucks employees from top managers to entry-level baristas could speak frankly about their experiences with racism.

A little more than 40% of the company’s baristas are minorities, and the audience of 400 or so at Cooper Union’s auditorium reflects that. Schultz has just come from a meeting with New York City police commissioner William Bratton in which the two discussed ways the company could help ease tensions. Like a candidate holding forth during a televised town hall, Schultz is speaking from a spot on the floor near the crowd. “People have told me we shouldn’t touch this issue, that we might stir things up, upset the shareholders. I don’t agree with that,” he says. “Conversations are being ignored because people are afraid to touch the issue. But if I ignore this and just keep ringing the register, then I become part of the problem. So here we are. Let’s talk.”

Pretty soon, the floodgates are open. The microphone is passed around, and dozens of partners, as Starbucks employees are called, begin sharing their stories. Some are crying, others angry. A young Senegalese immigrant, Tafsir Mbodje, a district manager who runs the Grand Central store among others, points out the slow police-response times in his former neighborhood, East New York. “I feel like we are at a tipping point in this country,” Mbodje says. “And it’s only going to take one more thing, one more event, to make things boil over.” Schultz takes the microphone. “I was born in East New York, and I agree with you. We are at a tipping point. There’s a lack of leadership in Washington, in government, and so it has to come from us.”

The forum is quintessential Schultz. He is at his best with his people, talking about issues that other CEOs would rather not come up in mixed company. In recent years, Schultz has taken on student debt, health care, veterans’ rights, youth unemployment and gun violence. All this do-goodery can be hard to live up to 24/7. A progressive image can sting if it appears hypocritical

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