Dead homeless people in the alley. Pot smoking in the bathrooms. Unsolicited crushes from the mentally ill who roamed the streets near the University of Washington. This is what life was like when I worked for Starbucks on the Ave (“the Ave” being University Way in Seattle’s U-District).
I started working for Starbucks in 2003 during the Dot-Com bust, after I got laid off from my first tech job. My unemployment was about to run out, I was a single mother with two children, and the rent on my Queen Anne Victorian house wasn’t cheap. Most of the tech jobs had dried up and I needed something…anything. So I turned to Starbucks. I also needed health insurance and they offered it to all employees who worked as little as 20-hours per week.
I worked at three different stores during my tenure at the coffee giant. The first being the company’s busiest drive-thru in Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood; the second on the Ave in the U-District (the fifth Starbucks store ever opened); and finally on upper Queen Anne, just a few blocks from our house. It was the funnest job I’ve ever had.
It was also how I came to meet Howard Schultz. I was a shift supervisor at the store in the U-District, meaning that most of our baristas were UW students. It also meant that this was a pretty busy store, especially in the morning. One day, we were really slammed. I remember this tall skinny guy coming into the store, waiting quietly at the end of the bean counter. He just stood there for a while, patiently waiting for I wasn’t sure what. I initially thought he was kind of creepy. We’d had issues in this particular store with weirdos having crushes on some of the girls, with one guy in particular bringing unsolicited gifts and flowers, making all of us so uncomfortable that we eventually called the police. This guy just stood there, making me a little nervous, until finally getting in line, advancing along the pastry case. He was dressed in a baseball cap, jeans, and running shoes. I thought he was a professor on one of his off-days who maybe had a crush on one of our baristas.
After I’d helped everyone in front of him and asked if I he’d like to order a drink, he reached his hand over the case, extending it to shake mine and said, “Hi. My name is Howard. I work for Starbucks! Is Ashley working today?”
I was stunned by his approachability, friendliness, and humility.
Having met this humble, down-to-earth CEO of a world-changing Fortune 500 company after working for him and being inspired by his biography, I wasn’t surprised to hear on today’s Marketplace that he’s launching a micro-loan program for small businesses via the Starbucks Foundation. Say what you want about Starbucks, Howard Schultz – like his neighbor Bill Gates – is a business leader with values.
Starbucks is teaming up with Opportunity Finance Network® (OFN) to help create and sustain jobs. The Create Jobs for USA program will provide capital grants to select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). The CDFIs will provide loans to underserved community businesses, which include small businesses, microenterprises, nonprofit organizations, commercial real estate, and affordable housing. It is the goal of Create Jobs for USA to bring people and communities together to create and sustain jobs throughout America.
The Create Jobs for USA program initially will be seeded with a $5 million contribution from the Starbucks Foundation. People can support the initiative by making a donation to the Create Jobs for USA fund. Starting on November 1, donations will be accepted at company-operated U.S. Starbucks stores and online at createjobsforUSA.org. For donations of $5 or more, donors will receive an American-made “Indivisible” wristband.
The thing that’s so great about this is that he’s not waiting for Congress to get its sorry act together. He’s using the power of capitalism to make it work the way it should, distributing his own wealth on his own volition.