Onward by Howard Schultz: A Book Review

A surprisingly easy business book to breeze through, both for the MBA’er and the Starbucks fan.

Howard Schultz had his work cut out for him when he returned as president and chairman of Starbucks in 2008, eight years after leaving the position. At the time of his return, the company was experiencing unprecedented losses due to a recession and over-expansion, among other factors. Onward is the chronicle of his coming back and what he chose to do to reinvigorate the company.

In almost intimately described details, Schultz narrates in the book the minutiae behind his decisions – from the shutting down of under-performing stores to his defense of company strategies amidst complaints from Wall Street and disgruntled investors. His changes are swift and decisive: from major shake-ups in the company hierarchy to the decision to simultaneously close 7,100 stores for three hours in order to re-train baristas on the art of making perfect espresso, to embracing the influence of the internet to re-connect with consumers.

Schultz’s belief that “Emotional connection is Starbucks’ true value proposition” is the driving force behind his decisions. With each account re-told in the book, Schultz’s passion and honesty are palpable from the pages – his agonies over the company’s breakfast sandwiches and his acknowledgment of a personal failure when he sees someone holding a competitor’s cup of coffee. The fast-moving narrative is mounted by daily conflicts and allows readers into Schultz’s psyche as he faces his limitations and grows into a new leadership style.

Unlike other business books that seem to require an MBA to comprehend their meaning, Onward is written with candor and is full of valuable business lessons taught through anecdotes and a re-telling of experiences. A key lesson in the book is that of innovation: “Because the best innovations sense and fulfill a need before others realize the need even exists…” writes Schultz. As a Starbucks fan, I find the narratives detailing the process of how VIA came about interesting, and how locally relevant products in Starbucks around the globe, like the Green Tea Frappuccino (which was created in Asia) have to be “…invented and executed by local talent in order to resonate.”

Onward has the elements of a good story: high stakes, tension, personal conflict. Schultz occasionally tends to the overdramatic I feel, especially in some of his speeches highlighted in the book. But his good intentions and hard work matched with the narration of  Starbucks’ customer-centric values and environmental mission make this book a valuable read for anyone wanting to know how to connect a brand to the consumer, and for the Starbucks fan of course.

Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul

By Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon
Rodale Books, 384 pages
P1,170 at all Fully Booked Stores .

**This book is part of my Lori’s Picks for November and is available for a 10% cash discount at all Fully Booked stores.

Leave a Reply