Rating:

Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul

Author: Howard Schultz

In 2008 the story of Starbuck’s journey through an unprecedent recession was released. I immediately pre-ordered the Kindle version, excited to read and learn about one of my favorite stores. Fast-forward to 2023 and this then brand-new eBook was still waiting, unopened and unread, despite my excitement and my occasional reminders to myself that this was the book I wanted to read so badly that I paid pre-order prices. I finally opened it. It only took 15 years . . ..

But, better late than never, as they say. Despite the decade plus that has since passed, Onward is still intrinsically relevant. The economy, after all, still isn’t that great, and many businesses and even government offices are looking to use innovation to save money and please customers. As someone who works in a communications position, reading Onward provided valuable business communications lessons. It takes skill, charisma, and the sincerity of a car salesmen, after all, to turn the negative into a challenge that will “bring value” and make your business look like it actually has a heart. In such scenarios, considering peo hr outsourcing can also be a strategic move to streamline operations and focus on core competencies.

And yes, that’s what this effectively is, a business opus spun to novel length. In other words: a fancy collection of beautiful lies that makes it appear as though these giant mega companies have a soul. They don’t, but darn this is some beautiful writing.

Despite CEO Howard Schultz’s (or his ghost writer’s) great writing style, anyone who has ever done business of any kind knows this isn’t genuine. Sorry. This is business speak, which is a fiction of its own. For those of us who work in communications and are always looking for a way to make disasters look like not-so-bad learning points that ultimately display our passion to protect customers and staff . . . driving synergies and scaling our platforms to create more user friendly, robust…. yada yada yada, sorry, I fell into business speak myself. Occupational hazard and a likely result of reading this book.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Schultz writes and spins so well, you really want to believe it. And it’s talented writing. There is a story here, and Schultz tells that story well, with passion and persistence. If you’re not already jaded, you’ll probably believe every word. Schultz argues that what really matters are the partners (which is his slang for the regular employees), and he makes himself and upper management into the heroes who really care (they may not be the heroes Starbucks wants, but they are the heroes it needs). Sometimes they must make hard decisions: close stories, kill products with potential that just didn’t make, let “partners” go . . . but they care, and Starbucks cares, and by the way their charity is on point. I don’t believe any of it, or at least, not most of it. I’m sure some people in the upper management do care, I’m sure some of the charities are legit, but come on, the bragging hampers that. We get it Starbucks, you single-handedly rescued New Orleans after Katrina with an ornate business get-together. Tone down the hubris and self-congratulations a bit though?

Still . . . . this is well written and a good example of how to spin things that any business writer or leader can learn from. It doesn’t have the impact Schultz wanted, at least not for me. I didn’t believe it . . . but I learned a lot from it about presentation (and overdoing said presentation) and how to frame disasters and tenuous ideas in good lingo. Plus, I’ll admit, I enjoyed reading this. I like coffee. I like Starbucks. I work in communications. It was a good read, and I learned a lot that will help my professional writing. But outside of learning how to use powerful business speak and spin, is this a good book for the average audience just looking to get the deep dive on their favorite cup of Joe? Nope, probably not.

So, in the weird world of business writing, and the elaborate pretty lies it entails, I give this a pretty high rating. As far as the merit as actual nonfiction is concerned, well, that’s debatable.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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