Sunday, August 16, 2009

Forget Harlan Koch, let's look at Howard Schultz

I've written ad nauseum about someone that I called Harlan Koch, an amalgamation of "Colonel" Harlan Sanders (the chicken guy) and Jim Koch (the beer guy) who is presumably passionate about his product. In my written meanderings, I wondered if some of that passion could penetrate Starbucks' Howard Schultz, and briefly noted that Schultz at one point seemed to have that passion.

Well, I'll let reality intrude on my written meanderings, because it turns out that BusienssWeek wrote in detail about one Howard Schultz. Here's part of what BusinessWeek said:

[W]e're talking about Howard Schultz, and about Starbucks, which for most of its existence was fast-growing and free-flowing, a place where the experience was everything. A place where the boss led by instinct, where authenticity was what counted. Schultz liked to say that Starbucks had taken the road less traveled.

That vision, perhaps inevitably, has collided with the exigencies of the real world.

The rest of the article talks about how Starbucks has had to transition from hot new product to unaffordable mass market item, how Schultz is now having baristas mark levels for milk (rather than leaving things to chance), and the struggle within Schultz to be benevolent and financially responsible at the same time.

The interesting part of the BusinessWeek quote above is the phrase "perhaps inevitably." Is this true of all hot companies? Are trendy companies destined to become cubicle hells?

There's a part of me that thinks that the answer is "no," that any company of any size can design its own corporate culture. If the Watsons felt like it, Big Blue could have been Big Pink or Big Purple. My former employer Motorola, instead of being known for processes to create processes, could have based its entire human resources organization on Maxwell Smart's shoe phone (trust me, the shoe phone spans the entire Motorola product line, when you think about it).
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