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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz received the 2013 Kellogg Award of Distinguished Leadership on May 20.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz received the 2013 Kellogg Award of Distinguished Leadership on May 20.

Taking things personal

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz receives Kellogg Award for Distinguished Leadership, talks leadership strategy with Kellogg community

By Daniel P. Smith

5/24/2013 - Before a capacity crowd at the Owen L. Coon Forum on May 20, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz didn’t suppress his concerns about the nation’s lack of leadership.

While acknowledging “the promise of America is still the envy of the world,” Schultz said many of today’s leaders have adopted partisan politics over national progress and convenience over conviction.

“We have a fracturing of leadership right now in America,” Schultz said. “People are hungry and longing for truth.”

Schultz was on campus at the Kellogg School of Management to receive the 2013 Kellogg Award for Distinguished Leadership. The veteran executive was recognized for his role in building and reenergizing the Starbucks brand as well as his endeavors to solve social issues through business.

A case for leadership
Relaying Starbucks’ rise into a global brand, its decline of the late 2000s, and its recent rebound to record-high performance, Schultz discussed the importance of pouring one’s heart into every leadership decision.

“If we don’t take things personal, then we’re not going to be here,” Schultz said.

Though not CEO at the time of Starbucks’ slide — a period that, according to Schultz, included falling numbers as well as lapsed corporate values — Schultz nevertheless took responsibility for the company’s struggles.

“As a leader, you need to do everything you possibly can to ensure that the standards, quality, excellence and reputation of the company is put in a place that it deserves,” Schultz said. “If you become a bystander, you become part of the problem.”

Schultz said Starbucks measured and rewarded the wrong things, growth concealed an increasingly disjointed enterprise and the status quo became an operating principle. While Schultz returned to the CEO’s post to curb the negative results, his first goal was to restore Starbucks’ core values.

“Leadership is not always having the answers, but leadership is staying truthful and authentic,” Schultz said.

More than leadership
While much of Schultz’s hour-long program addressed leadership, he peppered his presentation with advice for Kellogg students.

On having a bias toward action: “The opportunities in front of you have to be created by you. The excuses, the challenges, have to be overcome by you. The only thing separating you from you dreams is deciding.”

On creating an enduring enterprise: “You cannot create a great enterprise by just chasing profit; it’s a pretty shallow goal. But I do think you can create a great, enduring company that’s extraordinarily profitable by embracing a sense of purpose, values and culture and sharing that success with others.”

On innovation: “Innovation is having the curiosity to see around corners and create disruptive things that people perhaps did not know they needed.”

On finding the right fit: “My advice to you is to get into an organization whose values are compatible with your own.”

Further Reading