Howard Schultz: Starbucks is producing media, but I wouldn't call it a media company

Starbucks (SBUX) is producing media content.

The coffee company’s “Upstanders” is an original series that features “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a former Washington Post journalist who is now an SVP of public affairs at the coffee giant, produced the series. The two debuted the series’ second season in New York City on Monday evening

So, is Starbucks now a media company?

“What I would say is that for every consumer brand that exists today, especially a brick-and-mortar retailer like Starbucks, there are very unique challenges because there is such a seismic change in consumer behavior — the Amazon effect of everything,” Schultz said during a panel discussion with Chandrasekaran. “And what that means is that Starbucks, like every other consumer brand, must push for innovation and must do everything possible not to embrace the status quo.”

He added that the company’s core purpose is to be a “people company and a coffee company.”

“Upstanders” certainly seems to appeal to the “people company” aspect of Schultz’s characterization. The series features folks who take it upon themselves to affect change. It’s in line with Schultz’s call to action as little support comes from Washington.

Yahoo Finance’s Julia La Roche interviews Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Howard Schultz on Starbucks’ series ‘Upstanders.’

“Everyone of us is facing a narrative in the country that is quite concerning,” Schultz said. “You can’t wake up any day and not read a news clip or hear a TV soundbite or read a newspaper, and you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘what is the future of our country and society if we continue on this path?’ So the ‘why’ is, as trite as it might sound, if we all are going to be a bystander and ignore the signals that are being shown every single day then we are going to become individually and collectively the problem.”

“We’ve got to do what we need to do as citizens to take charge of our life, our community, to give back,” he said. “And specifically, I’d say if you’re dissatisfied with the system as it exists today then the midterm elections in November is a time where people need to step up and not be a bystander.”

Surprising and delighting the customer

“In every place that we go, what we’ve tried to do is lead with values and trying to get people to understand that we’re a different kind of company,” he said, adding, “Having said that, I think that no company — consumer brand or otherwise — can exist today without being a tech company inside that enterprise.”

Starbucks is spending hundreds of millions investing in technology, especially in mobile and digital. Schultz noted that 40% of the customers pay with their phones. That’s a place where content can be made available.

“It’s not a question of not being a media company. I think we have to be the kind of company that surprises and delights our customers where they live, where they work, and where they play. And it’s really about trying to do everything we can to maintain and enhance our relevancy.”

He added that with the internet and the millennial generation that every company is “totally exposed.”

“And if you’re not the kind of company whose transparency is going to be embraced by consumers, you’re going to be in trouble because people want to support a company or product whose values are compatible with their own. But it must be authentic,” Schultz said.

Presently, there are 28,000 Starbucks stores employing 350,000 people.

Watch the full panel below 


Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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