May 29, 2008
Starbucks and the Holocaust
Fortunately, Starbucks hasn’t been around long enough for this to be one of those stories.
Speaking to MBA students at UCLA today, Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, I was told, related business ethics, and his brand’s success, to compassion during the Holocaust. Schultz is a dedicated Jew—his company was boycotted because of a fabricated letter that claimed buying a latte supported Zionism—and he pulled a lesson from what an Israeli rabbi had shared with him and a group of American men on a recent visit.
The rabbi explained that when Jews arrived at the concentration camps, blankets were only given to every sixth man (I’m not certain about the veracity of this statement, but that is irrelevant). Auschwitz wasn’t exactly in a tropical setting, and these blankets were in high demand. But despite needing the warmth, the men lucky enough to receive a blanket were prone to share with their fellow prisoners.
This, Schultz said, was the human condition. We desire social connection, and we want to help those we perceive as suffering. It’s a reason, he said, that employees and customers enjoy the Third Place environment that Starbucks created. And it’s a reminder—out-of-business Joe Coffee Shop owner may want to stop reading now—to look out for the little guy in your industry.
No doubt this is a healthy lesson for UCLA’s future business leaders. And the fact that Schultz was the one to share it only means it will stick. But is it true? Is the human condition really one of compassion?