The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

May 1, 2016

Behind the Coffee: Starbucks’ Howard Behar

(Part 1 of 2) How do you put noble values like “people come first” and “lead from the heart” into daily practice in a business employing 200,000 people? Howard Behar, founding President of Starbucks International, discusses this and key concepts from his leadership book It’s Not About the Coffee.”

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Speaker 1: It’s a northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss. This is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve Motenko: Today on The Boss Show, Howard Behar, founding president of Starbucks International is with us in the studio. Hi. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the business guy. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development Services. I’m the author, along with Steve, of the book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. We’re just terrific people. For no other reason, you should listen to us.


Steve Motenko: I think so.


Jim Hessler: We’re just terrific people.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, some of us. We should take a survey. We’re always surveying our leadership development students.


Jim Hessler: Let’s post that question, are Jim and Steve terrific? A, agree, strongly agree.


Steve Motenko: Strongly disagree.


Jim Hessler: Disagree somewhat, right?


Steve Motenko: I refuse to take this stupid survey. I want to start, before we get to our interview with Howard Behar which is a 2 part. I’m really excited about. Great to have him in the studio. You’re going to learn all sorts of things about Starbucks approach to creating a workplace culture from the horse’s mouth, no offense. One of the people who truly was at the ground floor of the Starbucks growth from a small local chain to the, of course, an iconic the single international coffee company of note. Before we get there, Jim, as you know, about a week and a half ago I got a visit from my nephew, my brother’s son and my brother’s ex-wife, my nephew’s mother, my ex-sister-in-law.


  They were traveling through Seattle on the way to see a naturopath in Vancouver, BC in order to hopefully get some support around a Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis that she had gotten some months before. My wife and I had not seen her in quite some time. We have very close relationships with our nephews but since the divorce and … these things happen … we hadn’t seen her in quite some time. It was great to spend a little time with her. She was vital despite the fact that she was obviously struggling with discomfort, a lot of discomfort around the chemotherapy and the cancer itself. We had great conversations.


It was tough for her to eat anything.

  She was kind of chronically nauseous and struggling with that. It was actually kind of great to witness her struggle, to just be there for her to just be a supportive ear and to connect with her when it had been so long since we had connected with her in the past. It seemed like in a way kind of once family, always family. It’s so easy for divorced situations to take that away, to divide a permanent wedge in between the people. That wedge disappeared in that visit. We found out a few days after the visit, which was a week ago, Thursday, she developed an intestinal infection. The course of treatment prescribed for the intestinal infection seemed so horrific to her that she actually decided that it was her time.


  This past Saturday night, she, a resident of Ashland, Oregon chose to employ the Oregon’s Death with Dignity provision and engage in an assisted suicide. We just found out yesterday. Why do I bring that up on a show about workplace dynamics? What I want to say about it and I struggled with whether to because it’s so fresh for me having heard just about 24 hours ago. What I wanted to say and what I said to you by e-mail yesterday, we had a great e-mail exchange, is that the poets and philosophers say that we can’t fully live until we embrace death, until we embrace our mortality, oour impermanence, on this planet. In doing so, one thing I noticed is that my wife and I hugged each other a lot more.


  The one thing that I would say, I think applies to whatever your situation is, is hug each other a little tighter with certainty that your life on this planet is impermanent. Face into your mortality in order to truly embrace living. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: It’s a northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: Hello. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and this is the show for anyone who is or has a boss.


Steve Motenko: You’re the business guy and I’m the psychology guy.


Jim Hessler: I forgot to mention. I am the business guy.


Steve Motenko: After all the years we’ve been doing this.


Jim Hessler: Isn’t it amazing how you can do something the same every day and still screw it up?


Steve Motenko: We’re kind of not doing it the same way. We’re trying to vary it up and in varying it up sometimes we screw it up.


Jim Hessler: Yes.


Steve Motenko: We hope you will forgive us. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. We have in studio with us, Howard Behar, who is the founding president of Starbucks International. During his 21 years at Starbucks, the company grew from 28 stores to over 15,000 stores spanning 5 continents. Howard is the author of 2 books on leadership. One of which is called It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks. He’s just in the last month or so, I believe, released a new book, non-fiction, a fable, a truly fantastic work in the literal definition of the word — filled with fantasy — called The Magic Cup. Howard, welcome to The Boss Show.


Howard Behar: Thank you. Thanks for having me.


Steve Motenko: My first question is why Howard Behar? In other words, not why were you named that but what is it about you that allowed you to rise to the very top of a company the size and  grandeur and reputation of Starbucks.


Howard Behar: Luck plays a role in it, so thus preparation. Opportunity is where luck and preparation meet. I think that’s probably what happened. I had a lot of preparation from the time I was a little kid working on my father’s grocery store. Entrepreneurial business is all around my family. I saw business from that point of view. Not from size or big businesses but rather touching one customer at a time. From a Starbucks point of view, it fits Starbucks perfectly. When I got to Starbucks I was in my mid 40s and because of my upbringing and because of my parents’ coaching, it really helped me in a business like that which is a human touch business.


Steve Motenko: When you talk about preparation one might think that you’ve got an Ivy League degree and an MBA and maybe a law degree tossed on top of it but you don’t even have a college degree, is that right?


Howard Behar: No, I barely got out of high school. I went to a couple of years of community college and I was really good at beer and scotch.


Steve Motenko: Important things to be good at in some sense. How did the luck play in?


Howard Behar: I was the president of a land development company here in Seattle that got in trouble that we had to sell and I came out of that thing, I wanted to buy a business and so I started looking around at business to buy and I finally found one and I didn’t have any money so I had to go to my brother-in-law and my brother-in-law said, “Okay, I’m happy to support you but there’s a guy I want to talk to,” and I said, “Okay,” and we went to meet this guy and he happened to be in the Starbucks building, and a guy named Jack Rogers and we sat down. Jack said, “Why do you want to do that for? Why don’t come to work for us at Starbucks. We need a guy like you.” I turned right instead of turning left.


Steve Motenko: Where was Starbucks at that time? This is what year?


Howard Behar: This was 1988 and Starbucks had about 15 stores and it was a little of those rising plant down on airport way and it was just a tiny little company with a big dream.


Jim Hessler: You’re a Seattle guy born and raised.


Howard Behar: I was a Seattle guy born and raised.


Jim Hessler: You say kind of a little company with a big dream, did it really have a big dream at that moment or did you contribute to the development of that dream?


Howard Behar: Howard Schultz is a big dreamer. He always has been a big dreamer. When I would think that we can open a hundred stores, Howard think that we can open 500. Howard always was pushing that envelope and I think even at that time he saw a part that it obtained, he never saw what it has become, none of us did.


Steve Motenko: Even he didn’t see that.


Howard Behar: No. He couldn’t have seen that from where we were.


Jim Hessler: Once you came on board Starbucks, again what made you the right guy to shepherd the growth of the international Starbucks from Zero stores to 15,000.


Howard Behar: International was an offshore to the existing business. I had been running the operations both wholesale and retail in North America and grown up to 400 stores and by that time we needed a president of the whole company and I wasn’t the right guy for that job.


Jim Hessler: You were not the right guy for the job.


Howard Behar: I didn’t think I was the right guy for that job because Howard and I would have killed each other and that’s to put it mildly. I pitched the opportunity to take Starbucks outside of North America and a guy named Orin Smith took over the president’s role of Starbucks and I became the president of Starbucks International and took it offshore.


Jim Hessler: More with Howard Behar, founding president of Starbucks International when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show. Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Speaker 1: This is the Boss show on KOMO News.


Steve Motenko: Hi, I’m Steve Motenko. I’m the psychology guy. Welcome back. We have in Studio with us Howard Behar, founding president of Starbucks International and I will be interviewing Howard at the first public event of the Seattle Chapter of Conscious Capitalism. If you want to find out more about that, it’s on May 17th, go to


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy. Howard, you said before the break that you and Howard Schultz would have killed each other if you hadn’t found kind of this other assignment to grow the international business and that struck me because sometimes there’s a lot of tension in a high performance business relationship like that. Reflect on that a little bit for us.


Howard Behar: There always plenty of tension and we were growing fast, this was like a freight train running about a thousand miles an hour and many times there was no break. Howard and I had different views on a lot of things and both of us were kind of outspoken. Funny that a Seattle guy, soft and gentle Seattle would be willing to take on this with some Brooklyn guy that a street fighter but I was willing to do it and I didn’t want to boss. He wanted to be CEO and I said, “Great. You can be the CEO but you’re not my boss.”


Jim Hessler: Interesting.


Howard Behar: We’re partners.


Steve Motenko: He went with that.


Howard Behar: Yeah. Look, he dealt with it and he dealt with it really well and there was a third leg of the stool, Orin Smith that kind of when Howard and I were really going at each other he’d stepped in the middle but the three of us working together was a unique combination. They called us H2O.


Jim Hessler: Two Howards and a Orin Smith.


Howard Behar: We just had kind of personalities that worked together. Any two of us I think were the wrong combination.


Steve Motenko: Interesting.


Howard Behar: That is an interesting reflection. We do strive for collegiality and collaboration and sometimes we don’t realize the value of some tension. When there’s tension it usually tells me something important is showing up.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, and it depends on whether you can take that tension and make it creative tension, or allow it to evolved into a destructive tension as we talked about in our leadership workshop.


Steve Motenko: That’s correct.


Jim Hessler: That tension will exist anytime you have driven or visionary leaders or both at a head of an organization and whether organizations that are successful don’t have vision at the top and you can’t find two people who have exactly the same vision. How did you reconcile when you had different visions? Or did you just do it by going off and doing your international bank?


Howard Behar: A part of it was that but we would reconcile. We would argue like cats and dogs and I’d scream with him and he’d scream with me and whatever happen to be and we’d work it out. It didn’t mean there was always peace, there wasn’t always peace but we learned to live within that structure and we cry together, we laugh together and we argue together so it was all of it. It was a great relationship. When I finally retire from the company I said, “Well, if I could two guys it would be Howard and Orin.” One to fight with and one to have peace with. It just it worked out. It was one of those things that worked out that was unique but the people knew it was the right thing and we did too.


Steve Motenko: As I read your book It’s Not About the Coffee. It occurs to me that you’re an idealist, at least you write like an idealist and I’m curious and we can get this in more detail after the break and in the part two also of our interview but I’m curious about how an idealist survives in a very pragmatic business environment. I’m sorry you got like 15 seconds.


Howard Behar: I’m an idealist but I’m a realist also. I remember I grew up operating businesses. I know what it takes to get a buck to the bottom line and you have to be able to marry those two things. They’re not opposites to each other, they go together.


Steve Motenko: Let’s talk the break about how to marry them and we’ll ask you that question a number of different ways because I think a lot of listeners are going to be interest in how to take these pure values and apply them to the workplace. You’re listening to Howard Behar on The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: KOMO News. The Boss Show is back on s a northwest lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Jim Hessler: Hello, I’m Jim Hessler and I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy and once again we have in studio with us Howard Behar who was instrumental in the development of Starbucks, especially Starbucks International over his 21 year career with that iconic coffee chain. Just before the break, Howard, we were talking about reconciling idealism and pragmatism. You mentioned that it’s about alchemy and what intrigued me about that was that your latest book which by the way is available on, just came out a few ago.


Jim Hessler: Called the Magic Cup.


Steve Motenko: Called the Magic Cup and it’s a leadership fable. It’s just quite an intriguing book and alchemy plays a big role. Say first about, talk more about this alchemy between idealism and pragmatism, how do you make it happen?


Howard Behar: We’re complex individuals, right? There’s a lot of moving parts to us. I like to call I have a board of directors that sits on my shoulders, they’re yapping at me all the time and I even have named them.


Jim Hessler: Have you seen a therapist about this?


Howard Behar: Yeah, I have seen a therapist about it many times. The key to life is how you put all of that together and realizing that they’re really aren’t any conflicts between being an idealist, being pragmatist or we call it realist. I learned how to make retail work. I understand how to get a dollar to the bottom line but I never felt there was a conflict between getting a dollar to the bottom line and serving people, both the people inside the organization as well as the people that we’re serving, those human beings we call customers.


Steve Motenko: I’m curious if you have coached or counselled leaders who have said, who have taken the stance that that’s not possible?


Howard Behar: I hear that all the time.


Jim Hessler: So do I.


Howard Behar: I hear it all the time. It’s just doesn’t happened to be true. It holds no water. When you really look how things work, if you take it as a family, right? We struggle in families, we have monetary issues we have to deal with. If you have kids you got to deal with all sorts of stuff there. We have spouse issues we deal with, each of us, and it’s how you make those things work together. I’m an idealist, I’m a lover. I love being married, right? But I also have conflicts with my wife, so how do we put that together but you don’t think that you can. I think that you think that you can and that’s how I try to operate.


Jim Hessler: Howard, my wife and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary this year and we call it doing the work.


Howard Behar: That’s right, doing the work.


Jim Hessler: We call it doing the work. It’s not avoiding conflict. It’s entering into it with compassion and curiosity and even love and just saying this is how we form the substance of our relationship is doing this work together. It’s a powerful concept. I wish more leaders would follow your advice on that. It’s really powerful.


Steve Motenko: I was listening to an interview just last night actually with David Whyte, the poet philosopher and he wrote a book called The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. This notion of soul in corporate America I would bet is something that you would agree with based on what I’ve read of your work. David Whyte said that what got him into doing work with American corporate leadership what an incident early in his poetry career when an audience member, a businessman came up to him and said, “We need you to work in corporate America because the language we have in the corporate world isn’t large enough for the territory we’ve entered.” It occurred to me in reading actually both of your books but specifically It’s Not About the Coffee which set out leadership lessons, is that you’re in some ways creating a language large enough to hold corporate humanistic values, I want to say.


Howard Behar: That’s absolutely true. We never hardly use the word love in business but love belongs in business, caring belongs in business, all those things belong in business that are humanistic because human beings are what make business up. Without human beings, there’s nothing. There are no businesses so why we think we can avoid human emotion in the business world that I never understand.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, even if we want to.


Jim Hessler: Why would we want to?


Howard Behar: What’s amazing is there are people that do. They say, leave your problems at home. Baloney. Nobody leaves their problems at home.


Jim Hessler: Right. It’s denial.


Howard Behar: As an executive I could get out my office when I was really having a tough day, somebody as a barista working on a story, they never could escape.


Steve Motenko: Let’s talk more about this as it’s applied to the ten leadership principles that you talk about in the book, It’s Not About the Coffee, when we come back. You’re listening to Howard Behar, our guest on The Boss Show. Stay with us.


Speaker 1: It’s a northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: I am Jim Hessler I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko I’m the psychology guy and we’re talking with Howard Behar, the founding father of the international arm of Starbucks that now spans five continent. Howard, you talk about Starbucks being a people-centered organization and you say that Starbucks is in the people business serving coffee not in a coffee business serving people. It’s a wonderfully catchy phrase but can you give some examples of what decision look like holding that context?


Howard Behar: When you hold that context that you’re in people business then you start to evaluate all your decisions based on how they affect people. It doesn’t make any difference what the decision is, how does the decision you’re making affect your organization or affect the people you’re serving or the communities that you’re in. Those are the filters that you begin to use. You don’t use the filter of the bottom line even though you’re paying attention to those things, those things are going on but that’s not the filters that you use. You try to look at your business and you look at it in a context of human beings not in terms of product even though you’re selling a product.


  It seems like it’s conflictual but it’s not. You might make a decision on benefits. We gave everybody healthcare benefits so everybody thought we were crazy. It cost a lot of money to do that.


Steve Motenko: Everybody, all employees.


Howard Behar: Everybody that work 20 hours a week or more got it. The same healthcare benefits that the CEO got.


Jim Hessler: Wow.


Howard Behar: Right down, they do. Everybody got equity and we had a way of dividing out that equity that we thought was fair. Everybody got a pound of coffee a week free whether you’re the CEO or whether you’re a barista working in a store. We want to be able to walk down the hallway, look everybody in the face and say we were in it together. They were no corporate country club membership. They were no accounting fees for executives and for the longest while we don’t even have an airplane. I would still never have one but that’s all right.


Steve Motenko: I’m sure you and Howard argued about that.


Howard Behar: We really argued about that one. It’s the stuff that matters to the people that are working in the organization. Did you you always get it right? No, impossible. You couldn’t always get it right but we did our best to get it right and to do the right thing all the time.


Steve Motenko: The first leadership principle that you outline in the book It’s Not About the Coffee, and by the way if you have not heard the earlier sections of the show. Howard wrote a leadership fable that he released, that was published just a few weeks ago called The Magic Cup but we’re talking today mostly about It’s Not About the Coffee and the first leadership principle you mention in there is, you say, know who you are, and the subtle is wear one hat. What do you mean by wear one hat?


Howard Behar: We always talk about people, particularly my wife, she says, “Howard, you can wear one hat. I got to wear thirty.”


Steve Motenko: It’s not gender related.


Howard Behar: I’m not talking about that kind of hat, I’m talking about the hat that you wear that defines who you are as a human being, what your values are, how those values inform the decisions you make in your life, what’s your mission in life is. In other words, who are you as a person. I have a sheet of paper that I usually carry with me, I don’t have it with me today but, that it has in fifty words or less, Howard, and those are my 8 core values my mission statement and then my six Ps, how I live my life and that guides my life.


Jim Hessler: Wow.


Steve Motenko: It’s a matter of integrity really. It’s a matter of showing up the same way in all different context of your life, would agree with that?


Howard Behar: Absolutely. You are who you are no matter where you are. If you wake up in the morning and you look across the bed from you and if you’re it, if you have to put on your spouse hat hat, something is wrong in that marriage. If you got to go to work and you have put on your Starbucks hat, you’re probably in the wrong place. You got to be able to put your hat on and wear wear it in the context of your marriage, of your work, of your spiritual, any part of your life.


Steve Motenko: Or a multi billion dollar business, leading a multi billion dollar business.


Howard Behar: Yeah.


Steve Motenko: We’re talking with Howard Behar of Starbucks International, founding president of Starbucks International. More with Howard when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Speaker 1: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m the business guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko, I’m the psychology guy and we’re talking with Howard Behar of Starbucks. Howard, you’re saying right before the break you write in your book It’s Not About the Coffee. You’re not trying to balance your life, you’re trying to live it.


Howard Behar: Right.


Steve Motenko: What do you mean?


Howard Behar: We use this word balance. It’s the buzzword of the day, how do I live a balanced life but you don’t really trying to live a life you’re trying to integrate your life and integration is a much better word in my mind.


Jim Hessler: I completely agree.


Howard Behar: There are times when you’re going to spend a lot time with your kids and you’re not going to focus on your work or you’re going to focus on your work and not spend so much time with your kids but how do you integrate those things and I think that what makes a fulfilling life.


Steve Motenko: Howard will come back next week for part two of our interview. Also if you’re here in the Seattle area you might want to check out where you can pick up tickets for an interview that I’ll be doing, a more in-depth interview that I’ll be doing with Howard on May 17th.


Jim Hessler: The Boss Show is produced by Boss Media Production and our sound engineer is Kevin Doddrell.


Steve Motenko: If you missed any of the show today you can get it in its entirety online at our website, It’s also where you can go to connect with us or to subscribe to the podcast.


Jim Hessler: More next week with Howard Behar. Thanks for listening.


Steve Motenko: Don’t forget rule number six.


Jim Hessler: Rule number six.



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