Sunday, 15 November 2009

Running a business with your heart

My friends know I love coffee... and Starbucks especially.

It may seem sacrilegious to associate Starbucks with good coffee, since the coffee chain is seen as a mass consumption product rather than the typical romantic notion of a barista pulling perfect shots of espresso behind a bar counter in a Italian coffee joint. But I genuinely enjoy Starbucks - both as a coffee drink and a place to unwind and chat with friends and associates.

But with the bludgeoning popularity of Starbucks, it is becoming more difficult to love it as a coffee place when the outlets are perpetually crowded and noisy. It was facinating to me then, when I came across the book "Pour your heart into it - How Starbucks built a company one cup at a time" by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.

The book contains a riveting account of how Starbucks was born - first as a coffee bean retailer and then as a specialized coffee shop in Seattle, serving only coffee connoisseurs. And how Starbucks expanded into the worldwide chains, while coping with the challenges of rapid expansion.

For many companies around the world, growing too quickly is a demanding task. How do you cope with the finances? How do you balance between long-term growth and accountability to the stock market? How do you manage staffing issues? How do you ensure communications within the company? How do you keep morale up while being increasingly alienated from the staff? How do you ensure your customers continue to see you as a coffee specialist instead of a chain food outlet? How do you differentiate yourself from the competition in a playing field as open as coffee houses? How do you make decisions that do not compromise your integrity as a company?

For any one managing a company, this is a great book to read. Howard Schultz delivers a candid account of the growing pains of Starbucks, as well as providing great advices that runs against conventional business wisdom. The truth is - we can run the daily operations with our minds, but the guiding principles should always come from the heart.


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