Thursday, March 22, 2012

Coffee and Conscience

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice
of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of the scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Psalm 1:1-3
Just a few years ago Starbucks was closing stores and laying off employees in a desperate attempt to restore profitability. Today they are expanding, and the Starbucks stock price is at an all time high. At the shareholders meeting this week, the man responsible for the turnaround, CEO Howard Schultz, announced record profits of more than 1 billion dollars, and said that conscience was a key component of the company’s success.

Companies, he said, need to give back to their communities. He argued that it is good for business and essential to restoring the American Dream. “We’re heading into a crucible,” he told the shareholders, “something that’s really going to test the conscience of the country. It’s a test we cannot pass by being bystanders.” He talked about the growing gap between rich and poor and potential “cuts in social services we haven’t seen since the great depression.”

He criticized the government for not doing enough to resolve the debt crisis, or help create jobs and restore the middle class, and he criticized banks for not loaning more money to small businesses. He also insisted that business leaders can no longer wait for Washington to act.
Starbucks has created a jobs program that makes loans to small businesses and non-profits. And he announced the company’s commitment to the goal of job creation by investing $180 million in a new plant in Augusta, Georgia, as well as the expansion of existing facilities in South Carolina.

During the meeting, two shareholders stood up to question the company’s decision to support same sex marriage in Washington State. Each time, he answered calmly and respectfully, noting that not everyone agrees with their stand. “But,” he said, “I want to say candidly, this was not a hard decision.” We looked at the issue, he said, “through the lens of humanity.”

He went on to say that he wanted the company to stand for something more than a product and he wanted the company employees to feel like they were part of something larger than themselves that would make a difference in the world. Last year Starbucks employees contributed nearly half a million hours to volunteer projects in their communities, and the company is working hard to recycle more and be more environmentally friendly.

Looking at a business “through the lens of humanity” does not guarantee financial success, and “doing good” does not automatically translate into “doing well.” But without a concern for the common welfare, real success is impossible.

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