Posted August 10, 2016 in Leadership, What We're Reading

By: Howard Schultz
Reviewed by: Glain Roberts-McCabe

onward howard schultzThe Premise: In 2007, after years of recording record growth and profits, Starbucks Coffee Company started to take a rapid and brutal nose dive. With analysts and critics pronouncing the death of the coffee juggernaut, entrepreneur and founder, Howard Schultz stepped back into the business after moving away from the CEO role in 2000 to hand over the reins first to a former colleague, and then to former Wal-Mart exec, Jim Donald. Onward charts the steps Schultz took – along with his leadership team and a veritable army of advisors – to defy analysts’ predictions of the company’s demise and chart a new course to put Starbucks back on top. Schultz takes readers through his early vision for Starbucks and is candid about where he feels he (and his leadership team) lost their way. With passion and conviction, Schultz shares his lessons learned, personal biases, blindspots and offers a rare window into the mind of, arguably, one of the past centuries most accomplished entrepreneurs.

The Bottom-line: As I read this book, I was reminded of Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why”. For leaders who consider values the “fluffy stuff” and think only solid strategy and bullet-proof business plans are what makes a business succeed, Onward might not be your cup of tea (or, should I say, java). From the opening chapters of Onward, you can feel Schultz’s passion for why he wanted to launch Starbucks and the core values that drove the business. As expansion grew, Schultz talks about how the company lost sight of what was really important and how it affected the bottomline. Onward is a fascinating book that gives you an up close look at high stakes decision-making and the tough choices that leaders need to confront when they’ve allowed things to go off the rails. From time to time, I found Schultz justifying some of his own poor behaviour (and did wonder how some of it aligned with the values he espouses), but overall, I found myself wrapped up in the passion he has for his business. The lessons in this book are plentiful for leaders at any level and anyone aspiring to entrepreneurship. It did leave me wondering if professional managers can ever truly and successfully take over for founders. Passion and commitment like that can’t really be taught in a classroom.

Roundtable Rating: Highly recommended. An easy and interesting read for anyone seeking to learn how to inspire.

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