Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz endorses Hillary Clinton

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he is backing Hillary Clinton for president.

Schultz, a billionaire Democrat who has mostly donated to Democrats and backed President Barack Obama in his campaigns, said Wednesday that Clinton has the experience needed to be president.

“I think it’s obvious Hillary Clinton needs to be the next president,” he said in New York at a conference convened by CNNMoney, the news channel’s financial news website.

The Seattle-based Schultz has written about his hardscrabble Jewish upbringing in New York, and about his transformative encounter in Jerusalem with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who headed the Mir Yeshiva.

He received an award from Aish Hatorah, a Jewish Orthodox pro-Israel group, in 1998.


Report: Starbucks to buy 10% stake in SodaStream

Starbucks is in advanced talks to buy 10 percent of the Israeli home soda machine company SodaStream.

Shares of SodaStream jumped more than 10 percent following the report Wednesday in the Israeli business daily Globes, which said an announcement of the purchase is expected “soon.” The company value is $1.1 billion.

Neither company would comment in the media on the report.

Starbucks left the Israeli market about a decade ago after Israeli customers indicated their preference for purchasing their coffee from other companies.

SodaStream had been in the news in recent months following the signing of actress Scarlett Johansson as a spokeswoman and the ensuing controversy over its factory in the West Bank. Johansson resigned as a global ambassador for Oxfam over her position with the company, which employs Jewish and Palestinian workers at its West Bank facility.

Three Jews walk into a Starbucks

I was sitting in the Starbucks in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., listening to two men talk about a three-day hike through Israel’s Arava desert, when Bayaaz Khanoom appeared.

It was day two of the American Jewish Committee’s three-day Global Forum. I was there to write about the event for this publication, and the going had been great: nearly 1,300 men and women of all ages from 50 countries; speakers such as the foreign ministers of Germany, Canada and Brazil, White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew and Israeli author and journalist Ronen Bergman. And the wonderful thing about it was, people were allowed to express a range of opinions about matters relating to Israel. There was an Iranian neocon who thought the United States should effect regime change in Iran and let the rest — such as a replacement — take care of itself; and then there was the American analyst Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who thought we should all cool it because Iran doesn’t have the expertise and the capability to get the bomb. There was an Israeli who said that Obama has done more for Israel than any American president before him, and also a Frenchman who warned that Nazism is alive and well and disguised as Islamic militancy in Europe.

It should go without saying, and maybe once upon a time it did, that a diversity of opinion is a positive thing; that it should be cultivated, or at least tolerated; that you learn nothing by listening only to the echo of your voice and teach even less by preaching to the choir. I don’t know what happens in other parts of the world, but healthy disagreement is a dying breed in this country. We hear what we want to or we change the channel, yell in unison or stop talking to one another. For a minute, while Ronen Bergman was saying that Obama has been a better “friend” to Israel than George W. Bush, I held my breath and feared that he would be booed off the stage. But he spoke, and people listened, and the ceiling did not cave in over the auditorium. I even managed to have a whole 10-minute conversation with the neocon without living to regret it: He asked me if I’d been “inspired” by Bush, and I said yes, I was inspired to want to hang myself every time I heard him speak, and once that was settled, we moved on to more topical issues.

Just as refreshing as the range of perspectives was the sound of different languages and the array of foreign accents when English was spoken in the halls and elevators. In front of me in the line at Starbucks that afternoon, two Russians were engaged in a spirited conversation peppered occasionally with English words. The older man was Yury Kanner, president of the Russian Jewish Congress — booming voice and salt-and-pepper beard and the kind of who’re we kidding? candor that allowed him to introduce himself as an oligarch, as if that were a profession.

Matvey Chlenov, the younger man, pulled out a brochure and showed me the names of two dozen other Russian Jewish oligarchs, and then we sat down and started to talk about the Jews of Russia, who they were and what they became before and after the fall of the Soviet Union, and that’s when Bayaaz Khanoom materialized, all feisty and resolute and refusing to suffer fools, dead for a decade and still making the floor shake under her boots as she marched the distance between the wood and velvet salon of our house in Tehran and the marble and glass foyer of this hotel.

Chlenov was talking about the Mountain Jews of Azerbaijan, who came from Persia and settled in the Caucasus Mountains in the fifth century C.E., remained observant even as other Jewish communities became secular under Soviet rule, retained their Persian heritage even as they migrated to big cities in the 1990s. These days, they own most of the shopping malls in Moscow and occupy high places on the Forbes very-very rich list. Chlenov attributed their success to their strong ethnic character.

In front of me, Bayaaz Khanoom sat at a massive dining table across from my grandfather. Behind her, daylight poured in from the French doors overlooking the yard. 

“I used to know a Mountain Jew,” I said, but Chlenov did not believe me.

Still a young woman, Bayaaz wore widow’s black and handled herself like the matriarch she had had to become since she’d lost her husband years earlier. She was from Baku. She had married one of my grandmother’s brothers — a Jew from a prominent rug-trading family in Kaashaan — and followed him to Tehran. My grandmother had 17 brothers and a few dozen nieces and nephews. She spoke to them in the language of the Jews of Kaashaan, which was incomprehensible to my grandfather, who was from Tehran, or to anyone else other than Kaashaani Jews.

“That’s impossible,” Chlenov said. “Mountain Jews keep to themselves.”

So did the Jews of Esfahan, or of Hamedan, or Shiraz, I wanted to say. They each spoke a distinct language, ate different foods, held the others in varying degrees of contempt. So do the Jews in Los Angeles. So, to hear my new Russian friends tell it, do Jews from different provinces in their country.

I asked Kanner what he thought distinguishes one Jew from another. He thought for a long time, then he said: “When I read Isaac Bashevis Singer in Yiddish, I see myself in the stories, because that’s the language of my childhood. When I read the same story in English, I don’t recognize the story or the man.”

I don’t know if Bayaaz Khanoom ever learned Kaashii, but she never did blend in with her husband’s tribe. She had a resonant voice when the others spoke in whispers, an independent mind when everyone else fell into line. Perhaps for this reason — because she was unlike the others, not better or worse, but simply different — she was one of the few family members whose company my grandfather welcomed. One of the few whose memory remains vivid so long after everything else has faded or died.

The sound of all those languages spoken by one people, the force of so many points of view converging around a common goal, two Russians, a Mountain widow and an Iranian Jew sitting in a Starbucks a mile or two away from the U.S. capital — this, to me, was AJC’s biggest achievement last week in Washington.

Gina Nahai is professor of creative writing at USC. She can be reached at

What the Rabbi Taught Starbucks

I grew up in federally subsidized housing in Brooklyn. I was part of a generation of families that dreamed about the American dream. My dad had a series of blue-collar jobs. An uneducated man, he was kind of beaten by the system. He was a World War II veteran who had great aspirations about America, but his dream was not coming true.

At the age of seven, I came home one day to find my dad sprawled on the couch in our two-bedroom apartment in a full-leg cast; he had fallen on the job and broken his leg. This was way before the invention of Pampers, and he worked as a delivery driver for cloth diapers. He hated this job bitterly, but on this one day, he wished he had it back. In 1960 in America, most companies had no workers’ compensation and no hospitalization for a blue-collar worker who had an accident. I saw firsthand the plight of the working class.

That experience had a significant effect on how I see the world. When I got into a position of responsibility at Starbucks, what I wanted to try and do was build a kind of company that my father never got a chance to work for.

We at Starbucks have been trying to create an industry that did not exist, and a kind of brand that was very unusual. One real anomaly is that we have spent very little on advertising. We’ve had corporate executives try and understand how a brand could become so powerful and ubiquitous with so little promotion. The truth is we had no money to advertise, so we had to figure out a different way. We said to ourselves that if we wanted to build a large enterprise and a brand that had meaning, relevance and trust for all its constituencies, then we first had to build trust with our employees. So we tried to co-author a strategy in which those who worked for the business were really part of something. As a result, in 1989 we began to provide equity in the form of stock options to our employees.

When we did this, we had a couple hundred employees and fewer than 50 stores. Today, we have close to 50,000 employees, whom we call partners, and we will open up our 3,500th store at the end of this month. We have built, I think, an enduring business upon a premise that says the experience that we create inside our company will be the defining mechanism of building our brand. We said we must first take care of our people.

It’s critically important in building a business that every single strategic decision go into the imprinting of that brand. If you don’t tell the truth to some constituency, you can’t later say that decision just didn’t matter. Everything matters. A business must be built on a set of values, a foundation that’s authentic, so you can look in the mirror and be proud of what’s going on.

Recently I was walking down a street in London that was a very high-fashion piece of real estate. It had one designer store after another: Armani, DKNY, Versace. Expensive stores, expensive rents. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a storefront that just did not fit. It was about 12 feet wide, and no more than a 500 square foot store. In the midst of all these fancy signs and fancy stores, this store had one word on top of the door: “Cheese.” I couldn’t figure out what it was, so, curious, I went in.

Behind the counter was a poorly dressed 70-year old guy, and I was the only customer. As soon as I walked in, he came to life. I said, “I don’t know much about London, but it appears to me that this store really doesn’t fit on this street.” He replied, “Many people have said that to me, young man. But the truth is, it’s been here over 100 years.”

I said, “I’m sure you can make a lot more money on this store if you leased it or you sold your business.” He replied, “Well, I wouldn’t lease it because I own the building. The legacy, responsibility and pride that I have is to the generations of my family who have come before me. That is why I come to work every day to be a purveyor of cheese to honor the people who’ve come before me.”

With that, he started giving me samples of cheese, one little piece after another, on a tray. He had a precise description of every one while it was in my mouth. The cheese just came to life with his words. I bought $50 worth of cheese, in the middle of the afternoon, and alone!

Think about all our experiences every day. How often does anybody honor us as a consumer? Rarely. But when it does happen, the power of the human spirit really does come through. At the end of the day, when business is really good, it’s not about building a brand or making money. That’s a means to an end. It’s about honoring the human spirit, honoring the people who work in the business and honoring the customer.

When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there. I had never heard of him and didn’t know anything about him. We went into his study and waited ten to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.

What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn’t want to embarrass him.

We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: “Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now.” Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, “I have only a few minutes for you because I know you’re all busy American businessmen.” You know, just a little dig there.

Then he asked, “Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” He called on one guy, who didn’t know what to do—it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, “We will never, ever forget…” And the rabbi completely dismisses him.I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away—you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: “We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander.”

The rabbi said, “You guys just don’t get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.

“As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.

“After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

“As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, ‘Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?’”

And Rabbi Finkel says, “It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others.”

And with that, he stood up and said, “Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

Howard Schultz is chairman and chief global strategist of Starbucks. Through CARE and the Starbucks Foundation, the company works to give back to the communities in which it does business. Schultz received the Columbia Business School’s Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics last September. This article is excerpted from his acceptance speech. Reprinted from Hermes magazine, Columbia Business School, Spring 2001.

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