It is all thanks to Howard Schultz that Americans know what a latte is – and that they are willing to spend US$4 on a cup of coffee.
Now, the billionaire and driving force behind Starbucks – the American coffee house chain with thousands of outlets worldwide – says he is “seriously considering” running to become the next United States president.
Schultz, 65, who comes from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, has always brought a sense of social justice to the way he runs Starbucks.
Over the past few years, that underlying quest for justice has erupted with a new strength, inspiring both support and boycotts of Starbucks, especially as Schultz has taken a stand against some of US President Donald Trump’s policies.
On Sunday Schultz said in an interview with the US newsmagazine television programme, 60 Minutes, that he is “seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent”.
In the interview, Schultz criticised both Trump and the modern American political landscape.
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Correspondent Scott Pelley noted that Schultz is wealthier than Trump, according to a Forbes magazine report that estimated his net worth was US$3.4 billion.
Schultz responded that his campaign would be “fully resourced” because of his immense wealth, and that he would be willing to release his tax returns immediately.
While Schultz left Starbucks in 2018, he still owns more than 37.7 million shares – or roughly 3 per cent – of the company’s shares.
In 2018, Schultz’s salary at Starbucks was just US$1 and he received US$30.1 million in total compensation from the company, including stock and options awarded.
One ‘defining moment’ shaped Schultz’s life
Schultz was born in Brooklyn in 1953 and is the son of two high-school drop-outs, grew up living in a subsidised flat, in a public housing estate for low-income families,
It was there that Schultz says he experienced one of the biggest defining moments in his life.
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He came home one day to find his father “laying on the couch with a plaster cast from his hip to his ankle” after being injured at work.
Schultz told graduates at Arizona State University in 2017 that his father was an army veteran and truck driver with no workman’s compensation, no severance, and no health insurance.
“When I was seven years old, I had a defining moment in my life,” Schultz said.
“I saw the fracturing of the American dream and I saw my parents go through hopelessness and despair … And those scars, that shame, that is with me even today.”
However, Schultz’s mother encouraged him to study hard and pursue an education to give himself a chance in life.
He earned an athletic scholarship to attend Northern Michigan University, but upon on his arrival, he decided he wasn’t going to play sports at all.
Schultz took on a wide range of odd jobs while at school and after graduating.
To pay his university fees, he worked as a bartender and even sold blood. After graduating, Schultz worked at a ski lodge in Michigan, in sales at photocopying company Xerox, and at a housewares business called Hammarplast.
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Then, he discovered Starbucks.
A revolutionary coffee concept
Throughout the 1970s and much of the ’80s, Starbucks, founded in Seattle, Washington, was a coffee roaster first and a coffee shop second.
Yet in the early 1980s, Schultz joined the company and became convinced that Starbucks could achieve a seemingly impossible goal: remain a premium brand while becoming ubiquitous.
Schultz had never wanted Starbucks to stay small like other regional chains, such as Peet’s. In fact, Schultz left the company for a brief period in the mid-80s because he was unable to convince Starbucks founders that the company could be an international chain, not just a coffee roaster.
However, in 1987, Schultz acquired the Starbucks brand and 17 outlets from its founders, who decided to focus their energy on Peet’s.
Then Schultz began planting the seeds for one of the most ambitious retail expansions in history.
When the first Starbucks opened in New York, The New York Times newspaper report had to explain what a latte was (and how the world was pronounced “LAH-tay”).
Starbucks played up its exotic nature in everything it did, down to its sizes, with “grande” and “venti” providing a connection to the Italian coffee culture that had inspired Schultz.
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“Customers believed that their grande lattes showed that they were better than others – cooler, richer, more sophisticated,” Bryant Simon wrote in his book about Starbucks, Everything But the Coffee.
“As long as they could get all of this for the price of a cup of coffee, even an inflated one, they eagerly handed over their money, three and four dollars at a [time].”
Between 1998 and 2008, Starbucks expanded from 1,886 stores to 16,680.
Schultz took the chain from just an idea to an entirely new kind of store that hadn’t existed before.
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Starbucks now has more than 28,000 coffee shops in 77 countries.
The chain reported net revenues of US$22.4 billion in 2017 and the company’s market capitalisation – the market value of a publicly traded company’s outstanding shares – is roughly US$84 billion.
While Schultz led the company to incredible growth, especially after returning as CEO in 2008 after a period serving as chairman, his leadership has also been marked by his continued commitment to social issues.
In 2011, Schultz encouraged people not to donate to political campaigns until the government addressed national debt.
In 2015, he spearheaded the “Race Together” campaign to address police brutality and racism. In a 2015 The New York Times op-ed article celebrating bipartisan leadership, Schultz said he wasn’t running for office, “despite the encouragement of others”.
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Schultz’s political efforts have increased even more in recent years.
In September 2016, Schultz endorsed Hillary Clinton for president – the first time he had publicly endorsed a candidate.
In December 2016, he announced plans to step down as CEO, saying he would instead be focusing on Starbucks’ “social missions” as chairman.
Since then, he has criticised Trump’s attempt to bar refugees from entering the US, written in Britain’s Financial Times newspaper about national identity after US white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, and launched the second season of Upstanders, a Starbucks series of short films committed to highlighting people making a difference in their communities.
“One and a half years ago, during campaign season, we began to get quite concerned with the vitriol and the hate, and the lack of respect in American society,” Schultz said at an event promoting Upstanders.
“And we know there’s a different narrative. There’s different stories. And those stories are in every town and every city and every state in America.”
He left his role as chairman in June 2018, reigniting rumours that he would run for office.
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This article originally appeared on Business Insider .