You may not be familiar with his name, Howard Schultz, but you have certainly heard of his former company. It’s a little coffee shop called Starbucks. Schultz, raised in the projects of working-class Canarsie, Brooklyn, built Starbucks into a global phenomenon. In the process, serving as Starbucks’ CEO, he became a multi-billionaire. A few years ago, Schultz handed off his corporate responsibilities to pursue the next chapter in his life. The former billionaire coffee king recently made a stir by saying that he’s “seriously” considering a run for the Presidency in 2020 as a “centrist independent.”
This is the biggest career move in his life. The impact on his legacy could be significantly adversely impacted. Although, the upside, winning the presidency could be the crowning achievement of his life’s work. Schultz prided himself on offering Starbucks employees attractive benefits, including healthcare coverage, stock and savings plans, paid time off, parental leave and college tuition assistance.
Schultz desires to offer an alternative to the two warring political parties and inject a little old-style, traditional Democratic (even though he is not running as one) ideals to unify and improve the country. “What I have offered the American people is simply an opportunity to hear my story and to provide an opportunity for the American people to say we don’t have to have two parties,” said Schultz. “I would have to be disingenuous to try to run as a Democrat. There are millions of people in the country who no longer affiliate themselves with a Democrat or Republican,” he said. “No politician on the Republican and Democratic side can do it because both parties are involved every single day in revenge politics.”
The initial feedback was not too positive. The mass media cable television talking heads and people on social media instantly complained that Schultz would splinter the Democratic vote and make it easy for Trump to become re-elected.
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of his eponymous company and former mayor of New York City, previously weighed running for President, but elected not to. Bloomberg cited research, which indicated that there is a low probability of an independent winning and a high chance of handing Trump another electoral victory.
President Trump, believing an independent spoiler would work in his favor, started bullying and goading Schultz into running by tweeting, “He doesn’t have the ‘guts’ to run for President!” Trump added, “Watched him on @60Minutes last night and I agree with him that he is not the ‘smartest person.’ Besides, America already has that! I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!”
Howard Schultz doesn’t have the “guts” to run for President! Watched him on @60Minutes last night and I agree with him that he is not the “smartest person.” Besides, America already has that! I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2019
Starbucks is preparing their employees on what to say to customers if Schultz actually runs for office. Corporate management recognizes that there may be bad feelings among baristas and customers and want to proactively diffuse any potential issues.
Schultz has a big leadership and career challenge ahead of him. He needs to carefully consider what is more important: play it safe and protect his legacy at Starbucks by not running or risk incurring the ire and wrath of former colleagues, employees and customers and deal with the vicious name calling and online abuse that presidential candidates face. Schultz must decide if his passion to become president—and help the nation—transcends his own personal and financial interests. It is easy to see a scenario in which Schultz makes some missteps and the blowback could reflect poorly on the Starbucks brand. The company would lose business and Schultz’s personal net worth, tied up in its stock, will substantially decline.
We all confront these types of questions—albeit at a much lower level, but equally important in our professional lives. We are forced to make big decisions regarding the right thing to do in our careers. Would you take the risk of accepting a job, which offers a potentially large financial reward, but has a high chance of being downsized?
For Schultz, the stakes are extremely high. If his running causes Trump to win, Schultz will be demonized by half the country and his reputation will be shattered. There could be periods of time when customers boycott Starbucks and baristas revolt over a comment made by Schultz. The brand will be tarnished, sales lost and the stock price drops. The company that he built could end up irreparably harmed.
However, if he wins the election to become president, perhaps, he could use his successful business skills to improve upon our current circumstances. Anyone who has the unique sales and marketing skills to sell burnt coffee for $4, a too-sugary concoction, like a Frappuccino, for $8 and the tenacity to build locations on every street corner all over the world, may also possess the ability to help save the United States.
His decision is echoed by everyone searching for a new career direction. I usually caution job seekers to fully comprehend the possible downside risks that accompany their aggressive career goal before they embark upon the journey. I’ll also recommend that if they feel that they have the will, determination, thick skin and fortitude, then they should boldly follow their dreams and enthusiastically pursue their goals. I’ve found—over the years—that people who try, but lose, will still be happy, as they can look in the mirror and tell themselves, “At least, I tried and gave it a shot.” Those who never take a chance seem to always look back on their career with regret.