Conscientious Capitalists

The bottom line may be straight—but not always simple.

The bottom line may be straight—but not always simple. Figures include success, failure, and lots of people. Doing right by people isn’t always easy. So noted former Starbucks President Howard Behar, one of seven execs who explained where compassion fits in corporate America in the Conscientious Capitalism speaker series at the Leavey School of Business.

Behar’s words: I want to tell you a story about what caring really looks like. I was with Starbucks about two months and I got a call from a guy named Jim. He was a store manager in Seattle, one of our first stores. He called me and said, “I want to come to see you and Howard Schultz.”

When Jim arrived, I walked him back to Howard’s office and we started making small talk. Finally, being an A-type personality, I said, “Jim, what’s up? What can we do for you?” He looked at Howard and said, “I’m dying. I have AIDS.” Back then, none of us really knew what AIDS was. Those were the very early days. Howard said, “What does that mean?” He said, “Well, the doctors tell me I have about six months to live.” Howard said, “Jim, what can we do?” Jim said, “Well, I’d like to work as long as I can.” Howard said, “You can work as long as you want.” Then Howard asked, “What will you do for money when you can’t work?” Jim said there were agencies that could help. Howard said absolutely not. “You belong to us. We will pay your salary.” Remember, this is a company that’s losing money. We don’t know where we’re going. But here’s a 33-year old CEO and he said we’ll pay your salary. Howard asked Jim what he would do for health care—same thing, “There are people to help.” Howard said absolutely not. “We will cover you on our health care policy.”

What message did that send me? That I could do anything in service to another human being. That caring wasn’t about whether you could afford it. Caring was about doing it whether you could afford it or not. That’s the lesson I learned and one that’s lasted to this day. We were the first organization to give health insurance to part-time workers in 1989. And you got the same coverage I got and the CEO got. People said we were crazy. We stuck with it even when health care cost almost as much as the coffee we sold. We gave everybody equity in the company. People went to college, bought a car, put a down payment on a house—baristas by the way, not just managers—because of the equity. We always thought we were in it together.

For more about the Conscientious Leadership Speaker Series read Training Ground.

post-image Business isn’t always about making money, according to Howard Behar. Sometimes it’s just about serving others. Photo by Charles Barry
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