Monday, April 18, 2011

Even the Greatest Brands Need to Stay True

By John Maroon

I was in Seattle last week for an event with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation. While I was there, I decided to track down the first ever Starbucks store because it is a brand that I admire greatly and is the starting point for its CEO, Howard Schultz’ new book, Onward. (Sorry for my amateur photos!)

Today, Schultz still carries his key from that store where he first began working on September 7, 1982, and he doesn’t just carry that key for nostalgia reasons. He carries it, as he writes, “as a constant reminder of the responsibility I have to honor the heritage of the company and all of the people who had come before me.”

Starbucks’ is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2011. But the brand wasn’t really built until Schultz took over and fulfilled the vision he had after visiting small espresso bars in Italy and realizing that drinking coffee and gathering is an experience there…and can be in the United States as well.

The coolest thing about Schultz is that this latest book isn’t about how great Starbucks is (which it is), but about how, just a few years ago, he admits that he and the company lost its vision and needed to be righted. It started in 2000 when he stepped down as CEO and became Chairman of the company. The focus quickly became growth and they took their eye off of operations and “that experience.”

That, coupled with new competition and a failing economy, had Starbucks in a place they didn’t want to be. In 2008, Schultz was back as CEO of the company and the process of righting the ship began.

I am only in the beginning of Onward, but it seems to be a great lesson to companies and organizations of any size. Never forget what you stand for and what you want to be and how you want to be viewed. If a brand as strong as Starbucks can lose its way for a time, we all can.

John Maroon is President of Maroon PR. Contact him at

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