Q&A | Starbucks' CEO on Getting and Giving More than a Cup of Coffee

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Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz came to New York City on Tuesday to officially kick off a new feature in his company’s stores that has little to do with coffee and a lot to do with trying to fix the economy.

Starting Tuesday, coffee drinkers can donate $5 that will be added to the coffee company’s $5 million fund that will be used to for loans to small businesses. 

The program, “Create Jobs for USA,” is in partnership with the Opportunity Finance Network to provide financing for local businesses so they can expand, hire and help bring down the nation’s unemployment rate.

And to show they “gave at the coffee shop,” customers will receive a red-white-and-blue bracelet with the word ‘indivisible’ on it.

WNYC spoke to Schultz about the program and why he has little hope that leaders in Washington will find a solution before the next presidential election.

What is happening in stores starting today?

You can walk into a Starbucks today, give the $5 donation or more, get a wrist band and then we will get that money in the hands of community based loan organizations that hopefully will provide access to credit and create jobs.

Is there a specific goal?

With over 60 million people a week going through Starbucks stores we hope to raise tens of millions of dollars. I don’t want to put a cap on it, but clearly we’ve got high expectations of what we’re going to be able to do.

Why is Starbucks getting into the job creation business beyond its stores?

If you look about, what’s happening across American right now, with the protestors who really are demonstrating a level of frustration, anxiety, hopelessness, I just feel like this is a moment in time where like-minded people who have the resources — whether you are a company or an individual — we can’t ignore and we should not be a bystander. And obviously Washington is not doing what it needs to do to provide the foundation and the hope for these people, and I think companies need to do more.  What I’ve said publicly, and I know I have been criticized in some areas of the country for this, but corporations should not have a purely singular view of just profitability as its primary focus.  I think we are living in a time right now where there has to be a balance between profitability and social consciousness. We are trying to demonstrate ours.

There is a degree of populism in the program…this is some of the motivating force whether in Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement, do you see yourself in sympathy with some of their ideas, that it is the people who are going to take action?

If there is a line that I would use to describe what this program, hopefully, will be about it’s about Americans helping Americans. I don’t want to kind of put Starbucks in the same company with a political organization like the Tea Party or protesters, but I think there is a thread there that is connected and the thread is that there has to be collective responsibility, that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening and if we look at where this thing is going, and I said this quietly for months now, we could see social unrest in America and that would be a tragic event and I think we’ve got to step up and do what we can right now.

You are really concerned about social unrest?

I am concerned about it because I think there is a level of hopelessness and frustration.

When you look at some of the proposals coming out of Washington…is it your sense that these ideas are not really leading companies to hire people?

Truth is I don’t see any proposals coming out of Washington other than the president’s jobs bill which got voted down by the Republicans.  I think right now what I would say and I don’t want to sound as if I have all the answers because I don’t, but because of the ideology that exists, and the lens of most politicians who are incumbents looking at re-election, almost every decision and every proposal no matter what it is is going to go through this filter of asking whether or not this is going is good for me personally. As a result of that, I have very little confidence in anything is going to happen between now and the next 13 months.

It sounds like you are throwing in the towel?

I am not throwing in the towel, but my level of confidence that Washington is going to deliver a panacea of solutions to America over the next 13 months is pretty much zero. So what I am saying is we, as business people and business leaders, must do our part, and I also think that there has to be an understanding that to do our part there has to be more of a balance between profitability and social conscience to do the right thing for the people who need it the most.