Ciao, Howard Schultz: Thanks for the Stardust and Civility

One of the best conversations I ever had was not too long ago at a Starbucks near a community college in California. It was packed with students, profs, and  community folk, not unlike most coffee shops. But on this evening, the routine of common greetings and small-talk was delightfully disrupted when a young man stuck his head out over the counter and asked me, personally, if I would like to talk with him about race. No one had ever asked me that question before. So, I said, sure. And that’s how I came to learn about the genius of Howard Schultz. Schultz advocated for lots of civic and social causes and he found a way to incorporate the do-good and respect-human-dignity ethos into his corporate marketing strategy.

After completing his shift, the barista joined me where I sat watching evening traffic flow up the boulevard. Together, we browsed the newspaper that Starbucks printed containing  data related to race as part of Howard Schultz’s project to get people talking about race in the wake of tragic deaths of black youth. How often does one get the chance to have a non-superficial conversation with someone who, by all outward appearances is your exact opposite? Not often. And on the West Coast, it can be a challenge, for many reasons that have nothing to do with identity, per se, but a lot to do with logistics,  economics, and desire. 

Sometimes, people need motivation just to talk. Howard Schultz mastered the art of motivation. 

Another reflection of his genius is the Starbucks app with the sparkly “star” rewards. I don’t know if he came up with the idea and the app, but he probably led the effort to get people excited about spending money on lattes. Sadly, with the recent change in the way the stars are now allotted, it’s much harder to a). spend money at Starbucks, b). have a great, and I mean great, conversation, and c).earn a star reward. I already miss this CEO. Not all change is heroic. My fingers are crossed.

Howard Schultz, whatever you do next, please know that your CEO-magic lit up my life. 

My hope is that Starbucks will  evolve into a revolutionary food company with a bright and strong social compact. Please do not succumb! 

Books and Coffee: Universities, Business Ethics, and CSR

This blog was previously posted on LinkedIn.
Hands_MuralHow will corporations make it easier for workers to increase their knowledge about the world? Higher education as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is one possibility.

Starbucks’ attempt to support employees’ academic education is, in my opinion, one example of CSR. I do not know the inside story of how the coffee giant and Arizona State University brokered the deal to support barista-student learning. But, educators and CSR managers will want to know more.

Why is this interesting?

First, much scholarship exists on corporations and the impact they have on universities (Buchbinder & Newson, 1990, and Nixon & Helms, 2002). However, scholarship on this topic generally brings up the question of university autonomy and corporate expectation. This is interesting from an educational and a business ethics standpoint. Business executives and university executives/professors, and employees and students may consider the various outcomes when corporations and educational institutions align.

Second, a corporation focusing on higher education completion for employees may indicate a shift in CSR from environmental concerns to that of investment in the individual for the common good.

What other CSR trends might emerge?

One emerging trend might be employers encouraging workers to develop new knowledge and skills outside of the work place. Once the workplace was the site for training, but perhaps things are changing. Training has new meaning, or training does not have the relevancy it once had. Instead, the focus may shift to learning and personal development.


Historically, the private sector in the United States has generously supported higher education of MBAs and many other professionals seeking advanced degrees, and the CSR phenomenon is catching interest overseas, too (Matten & Moon, 2008).

Research question

What will happen when businesses extend their philanthropic support to undergraduate students as opposed to graduate and professional students?


A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) business-school ethics class might tackle these questions and in doing so, might re-ignite interest on the topic of business ethics. Business ethics as a topic, it has been argued, has suffered from lack of popularity, in the past (Matten & Moon, 2004).


A well-educated workforce accepts specialists and generalists, alike.

More companies supporting the efforts of their employees to attain a college degree means an increase in the number of workers who may have the potential to broaden their knowledge of the world beyond work.

Increased knowledge may translate into increased opportunity for workers and college graduates to create sustainable, socially responsible outcomes for more people.


Buchbinder, H., & Newson, J. (1990). Corporate-university linkages in Canada: Transforming a public institution. Higher Education, 20(4), 355-379.

Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2008). “Implicit” and “explicit” CSR: A conceptual framework for a comparative understanding of corporate social responsibility. Academy of management Review, 33(2), 404-424.

Matten, D., & Moon, J. (2004). Corporate social responsibility education in Europe. Journal of business Ethics, 54(4), 323-337.

Nixon, J. C., & Helms, M. M. (2002). Corporate universities vs higher education institutions. Industrial and Commercial Training, 34(4), 144-150.

Would you like to know more about this topic? Contact Gail Taylor, researcher, writer, blogger, instructor, and #OFAFellow.