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Onward by Howard Schultz: A Book Review

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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
[Hardcover]
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.

6 Responses to “Onward by Howard Schultz: A Book Review”

  • Quick breezy read and it was great how his passion about his company really came out. Overall, I thought it was a bit of a bore to get through, sort of like I was reading a hyper extended version of their annual report where he discusses decisions made, and how they wonderfully worked out in the end. He comes across as a little melodramatic … but he must be admired for managing to turn his company around.

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    Lori Reply:

    Definitely agree with you on the melodrama. I feel the book could’ve been shortened by half or at least a quarter. Still, I appreciate the easy, breezy read for non business-minded types like myself. And yes, the way he turned Starbucks around is no small feat.

    –lori

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  • Love the cover design which uses the new logo–half of which is a “coffee” stain which also symbolizes the organic/human aspect of the business and not just the corporate green (profit). :)

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  • Thanks for recommending this book, Ms. Lori. (or rather bringing it my attention)
    I’ve only just started reading a few chapters from its kindle preview but I can already tell this is going to be one of those books that I’ll enjoy reading over and over.
    An easy read, great for relaxing. H.S.’ stories are so catching, I practically got myself a nice hot cup of coffee (and cupcake too!) while I read on the first few chapters…
    I can’t wait to get my hands on the whole book.
    Here’s to good coffee and good reads. Cheers!

    signed,
    A humble baker named Issie.

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    Lori Reply:

    Glad to be of help, Issie. Like food, books are meant to be “devoured” and shared too.
    –lori

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  • If I have to read ‘when I returned as ceo’ one more time, I will punch the nearest person.

    [Reply]

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