August 2013 Ethical Hero – Howard Schultz

I have never posted the same “Ethical Hero” twice. Howard Schultz is the exception.

Starbucks Chairman, President and CEO Howard Schultz has never shied away from controversial issues. Nor has he shamelessly pandered to his customer base. He has, in fact, embraced two words that are in short supply today: Common Sense.

In 2011, frustrated with Washington politics, Schultz sent out a company-wide e-mail expressing his frustration over “the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people’s agenda.”

Schultz stressed to employees that “to earn our customers’ trust by being respectful of their own life situations — whatever it may be.”

Ultimately, he called on corporations to ban all political contributions to both parties until they grasp the fact that they work for the people, not the party, special interest or their own particular agenda.

“Earlier this year,” The Associated Press reported that Starbucks “banned smoking within 25 feet of its stores, wherever its leases allowed. The idea was to extend its no-smoking policy to the outdoor seating areas, regardless of state laws on the matter.

“At the company’s annual meeting in March, a shareholder stood to criticize Starbucks’ support of marriage equality. Schultz told the man it was a free country and that he could sell his shares.”

When I opened today’s New York Times (Sept. 19), there he was, again – Schultz was taking another stand for the sake of respect and responsibility:

Dear Fellow Americans,

Few topics in America generate a more polarized and emotional debate than guns. In recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate. That’s why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.

From the beginning, our vision at Starbucks has been to create a ‘third place’ between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community. Our values have always centered on building community rather than dividing people, and our stores exist to give every customer a safe and comfortable respite from the concerns of daily life.

We appreciate that there is a highly sensitive balance of rights and responsibilities surrounding America’s gun laws, and we recognize the deep passion for and against the ‘open carry’ laws adopted by many states. (In the United States, ‘open carry’ is the term used for openly carrying a firearm in public.) For years we have listened carefully to input from our customers, partners, community leaders and voices on both sides of this complicated, highly charged issue.

Our company’s longstanding approach to ‘open carry’ has been to follow local laws: we permit it in states where allowed and we prohibit it in states where these laws don’t exist. We have chosen this approach because we believe our store partners should not be put in the uncomfortable position of requiring customers to disarm or leave our stores. We believe that gun policy should be addressed by government and law enforcement – not by Starbucks and our store partners.

Recently, however, we’ve seen the ‘open carry’ debate become increasingly uncivil and, in some case, even threatening. Pro-gun activists have use our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called ‘Starbucks Appreciation Days’ that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of ‘open carry.’ To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.

For these reasons, today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas – even in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted – unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.

I would like to clarify two points. First, this is a request and not an outright ban. Why? Because we want to give responsible gun owners a chance to respect our request – and also because enforcing a ban would potentially require our partners to confront armed customers, and that is not a role I am comfortable asking Starbucks partners to take on. Second, we know we cannot satisfy everyone. For those who oppose ‘open carry,’ we believe the legislative and policy-making process is the proper arena for this debate, not our stores. For those who champion ‘open carry,’ please respect that Starbucks stores are places where everyone should feel relaxed and comfortable. The presence of a weapon in our stores is unsettling and upsetting for many of our customers.

I am proud of our country and our heritage of civil discourse and debate. It is in this spirit that we make today’s request. Whatever your view, I encourage you to be responsible and respectful of each other as citizens and neighbors.

Sincerely,

Howard Schultz

Congratulations, Howard. You continue to be a thoughtful, and well-reasoned breath of fresh air that the country needs more of.

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