SEATTLE —“Every meeting at Starbucks begins with a coffee tasting to remind us why we’re here,” Andrew Linneman, Vice President of Coffee Quality and Engagement, told a room full of LCLD Fellows. Though unusual, the slurping session (at Starbucks, it’s rude not to slurp) was the perfect way to kick off a Learning Experience at a company so grounded in its chief values of coffee and community. 

Kevin Johnson, President and Chief Operating Officer (photo, below), began the day with an overview of the coffee company, which serves 80 million customers a day in 66 countries. The company is committed to bringing quality coffee to its customers in a comfortable setting, he said, but also to making positive changes in the world. 

“Financial success gives us permission to practice doing good,” Johnson said. He noted various community programs, from an initiative to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses to starting a petition asking Congress to avoid a government shutdown.

But even as the business is rapidly expanding – Mark Fordham, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, said Starbucks opens a new store in China every day and a half – Starbucks strives to never lose sight of its mission: “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” 

Throughout the day, Fellows heard from Starbucks leadership about the company’s foray into tea with the acquisition of Teavana, the ever-changing digital strategy, U.S. and international retail, and store design. 

True to the company mission, Fellows had the opportunity to inspire and nurture one another during a session on goal-setting with Chris De Santis, Specialist in Management and Organization Development, in which they were prompted to discuss their goals for the coming year and given instructions on how to help one another achieve them. 

During lunch, Fellows heard from the general counsel of Starbucks, Uber Technologies, Inc., the Seattle Seahawks, and Real Networks, Inc. The panel, moderated by 2014 Starbucks Fellow Katina Thornock, covered many topics, from leadership qualities to mistakes at work. But some of the biggest take-aways of the day came from the panel’s discussion of diversity.

“It speaks highly of the company that so many of their leaders are involved and willing to give an hour or more of their day to be part of the program.”

—Wednesday Shipp, Procter & Gamble, 2015 Fellow

“One of the things that kept me committed to the [legal] profession was a statistic that said it was zero percent likely that I would make partner as a minority woman,” said Salle Yoo, General Counsel of Uber. “So because I’ve been there, I’m more sensitive to diversity as a leader  – I’m very intentional about who I hire because I know it makes a difference.” 

Lucy Helm, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Starbucks, also elaborated on the importance of a personal commitment to diversity. “Make it personal, make it deliberate, and make it work,” she said.

Highlighting Helm’s comments about the importance of diversity to her legal department and the company as a whole, the last session brought the day full circle with a discussion of the company’s efforts to both promote diversity internally and to support the diverse communities of which employees and customers are a part.  

“We’re living in one of the most important periods of American history,” said Blair Taylor, Senior Vice President and Chief Community Officer. “It’s a time for leaders and corporations to step forward and lead. At Starbucks, we use our scale as a force for good.” Taylor mentioned Opportunity Youth, a program designed to help fill the gap between educated youth and the professional workforce, and the College Achievement Plan. He also spoke about “Race Together,” a somewhat controversial initiative Starbucks launched in the fall encouraging baristas to write “Race Together” on cups.

“I know there’s a lot of criticism, but here’s my opinion,” Taylor said. “These conversations need to happen. People want to talk about race but they don’t know how. This is a way to do that.” 

The day before the Learning Experience, Fellows attended a tour of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room and a reception hosted by Littler Mendelson, P.C. 

LCLD wishes to thank Lucy Helm, and Starbucks Fellows Naser Baseer, Sung Yang, Katina Thornock, and Shelly Ranus, as well as Thomas Bender, Co-President and Managing Director of Littler Mendelson, and Judy Iriye, 2014 Fellow.