The New York Times has a piece that asks the question, "Why Is Howard Schultz Taking This So Personally?"
The "this" in question is unionization by some employees. And the "why" seems to be simple: it conflicts with everything Schultz believes about the company he grew into a global behemoth.
"Mr. Schultz, 69, appears intent on defusing interest in a union before he leaves the company next spring for the third — and, dare one say, final — time. He has thrown himself into providing new benefits and wage increases, but withheld them from employees in the union, which represents about 2 percent of the company’s U.S. work force of more than 250,000. When asked in an interview in June if he could ever imagine embracing the union, Mr. Schultz responded with a single immovable word: No.
"He has alluded to a downside for customers, and some labor experts argue that a union could seek to limit the number of syrups, powders and foams that can be added to drinks, as a way to ease the burden on baristas. Such 'modifiers' brought in about $1 billion during the last fiscal year and have helped drive record revenues.
"But friends and longtime colleagues say Mr. Schultz’s opposition to the union isn’t primarily about the bottom line. It’s emotional. A union clashes with his image of Starbucks as a model employer."
The Times goes on to point out that "the stakes extend far beyond Starbucks. The union campaign has helped give rise to labor organizing at a variety of other companies, including Apple, Trader Joe’s and REI. If the union manages to wring significant concessions from Starbucks, it could accelerate organizing elsewhere and help change the relationship between management and labor across the country.
"If, on the other hand, the union fades away under Mr. Schultz, it could undermine the recent organizing renaissance and further relegate unions to the economy’s margins.
"No one knows which scenario will come to pass before Mr. Schultz hands the keys to his appointed successor, Laxman Narasimhan."
However, it may all come down to this: "At Starbucks, Mr. Schultz’s resistance to a union appears to be a matter of self-image, according to those who know him: He prefers to see himself as a generous boss, not a boss who is forced to treat employees generously."
- KC's View:
Actually, I think it comes down to what Michael Corleone told Sonny Corleone in The Godfather: "It's not personal Sonny, it 's strictly business."
But of course, in some ways it was personal. And would get more so for Michael, until he was subsumed by it all.
Maybe Schultz hasn't watched The Godfather lately, so he hasn't been reminded how this can happen.
The labor wounds that Starbucks is suffering are largely self-inflicted. It is because management lost touch with what was happening at the stores, and became disconnected from both its workers' experiences and its customers' experiences.
That's a dangerous place to be if you are a retailer. And I find myself wondering the degree to which many other retailers are guilty of the same detachment.