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Lessons Learned From Our Morning With Howard Schultz

The Hughes Family with Howard Schultz: from left to right – Bailey Hughes, Tucker Hughes, Shay Hughes, Howard Schultz, Jason Hughes, Star Hughes-Gorup and Steven Gorup.

By Jason Hughes

I’ve been fortunate to have many very special experiences, both personal and professional, with my family. But the morning of June 12, 2017, certainly ranks as one of the top professional experiences I can think of.

Many months ago, I was high bidder for a charity auction to benefit Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights–and the prize was a coffee tasting with Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks, at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle, WA. After coordinating schedules, my family and I arranged to meet Howard for what was to be a rare coffee tasting session.

As a long-time fan of Mr. Schultz, it was quite a treat to see him walk into the crowded Roastery in casual clothes and come right up to us with a big smile, a firm handshake and a genuine hello. And I’m not just a fan…I’ve read and re-read his books, Pour Your Heart Into It (1999) and Onward (2012) many times. I’ve annotated and highlighted a majority of the pages, and reference them regularly for guidance and inspiration. So to see my business idol in person–being so authentic and interested in my family–was almost surreal.

After ordering us a new Starbucks cold brew drink called the Melrose (which was fantastic!), we went into the private “Library” at the Roastery for some personal time to hear about Howard’s experience growing Starbucks, along with his thoughts and advice on growing our business. After all, we recently expanded to our first out-of-state Hughes Marino office in Seattle that opened this past July!

Our daughter, Star, took voracious notes. We all rapid fired questions about maintaining culture while growing; methods and tips for team communication; transparency and honesty with our team and clients; ideas for advisory help for guidance; contacts for professional assistance in multiple industries, and the list went on and on. Howard answered them all! Not only did he answer our questions–he gave specifics. He gave names and phone numbers. He told us to use his name for intros. It was amazing!

One thing that Howard said that really stood out was that everything he (and Starbucks) considers is viewed from a lens of “Will it make our Team proud?” I know that all of our collective decisions to date have inadvertently been made with this in mind, but not in such a clear and decisive way. What a great way to view decision-making–whether it be for our company, children, spouses, friends, etc.

Another point that resonated with me was that all of his decisions have been focused on being “enduring long-term wins–never short term gains.” So many of the ultra-successful companies, like Amazon, Google, Apple, etc., have the same mindset.

Howard says that “A well-built brand is the culmination of intangibles that do not directly flow to the revenue or profitability of a company, but contribute to its texture. Forsaking them can take a subtle, collective toll.” I love that!

Another quote of his that really resonated with me was that “Starbucks has always been about so much more than coffee. But without great coffee, we have no reason to exist.” That’s what we’ve been doing at Hughes Marino. Our team, our culture–it’s so much more than commercial real estate services. Sure, without our real estate services our company would have no reason to exist. But what an incredible improvement! Just like Starbucks changed Folger’s coffee (anyone under 40 probably doesn’t even know what Folger’s is!), we’re changing our industry.

In 1986, Howard tried to buy the original Starbucks stores (only a few were in existence at the time) but the founders wouldn’t sell. He then started his own coffee company called Il Giornale in Columbia Center, (the tallest building in Seattle), a 710 SF space where Howard often worked behind the counter pouring shots. It was then when he wrote his first memo to his team of two other people. He outlined the company’s mission and the goals he expected to achieve. He explained his memo in Onward:

“Il Giornale will strive to be the best coffee bar company on earth. We will offer superior coffee and related products that will help our customers start and continue their work day. We will not compromise our ethics or integrity in the name of profits. Our coffee bars will change the way people perceive the beverage, and we will build into each Il Giornale coffee bar a level of quality, performance and value that will earn the respect and loyalty of our customers.” At the end of the memo, above my signature and in lieu of a traditional “Thank you” or “Sincerely,” I wrote “Onward.” I had never used that word before, but it felt right, like a call to arms that seemed to fit the daunting yet exciting adventure my little company was embarking on. Forward leaning. Nimble. Scrappy. An unquenchable desire to succeed, but always with heads held high.”

What a journey he had. And while we are not Starbucks–Howard and the company, are huge inspirations for me–and I hope for all of you. He was someone who really did it right, and I hope that Shay and I can be a fraction of the leader that he has been. It’s daunting, yet exciting. But we are committed to changing our industry for the better. And somehow we’re going to make it happen!

What I found so foundationally moving for me was that WE, our company, our team, our family, our Hughes Marino leaders, are doing so much right! I felt even more inspired than I already was –which was SUPER inspired! It was an additional adrenaline shot in the arm that despite being a minuscule company of nearly 100 teammates (compared to Starbucks 350,000 employees–whom Howard refers to as “partners”), we stand for something important. It reminded me that we are making a difference, and we’re changing lives as a result. In an industry that is largely homogeneous, we’re a standout. In an industry fraught with conflict, we’re a beacon of honesty and transparency. In an antiquated, old-school service sector business, we’re a fresh, transformative leader of value-added service, quality and guarantees.

I’ll have so much more to say and do over the days, weeks and months as a result of our truly special morning with Howard. But for now, I want to reflect on the wonderful morning spent with a very generous and gifted man–Howard Schultz. I will forever be a fan, and I hope, for our country’s sake, we’re lucky enough to have him run for President! #schultz2020


Jason Hughes is chairman, CEO, and owner of Hughes Marino, an award-winning commercial real estate company with offices across the nation. A pioneer in the field of tenant representation, Jason has exclusively represented tenants and buyers for more than 30 years. He writes about topics in commercial real estate from a tenant’s perspective on his blog, Downtown Dirt. Contact Jason at 1-844-662-6635 or jason@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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