It was 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, when Howie was born. The New York Yankees won the World Series that year, Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was President of the United States, Jonas Salk announced the vaccine for polio, and Ernest Hemingway won a Pulitzer for The Old Man And The Sea.
Howie’s family was poor. His dad worked constantly. His parents did their best to provide the basics for Howie and his two siblings; food, shelter, clothes. It wasn’t an easy time for them. His dad broke his leg on a job and they had no health insurance. That caused a major setback in their already empty pockets and left them in a set of circumstances that would never be forgotten.
“I saw my father losing his sense of dignity and self-respect,” Howie said. “I am sure that this was caused mostly by the fact that he has been treated as an ordinary working man.”
Howie grew up among many other poor families in their poverty-stricken neighborhood. They played a lot of basketball, since there wasn’t much else to do. Howie had his first job at the age of 12. Two jobs, in fact. He worked in a cafe and delivered the newspaper. At 16, he stretched leather for a local fur company. Stretching leather is taxing on the muscles, but it also builds them, which meant that Howie grew strong. Combined with his athletic ability in multiple sports, by the time he graduated from high school he had earned an athletic scholarship from Northern Michigan University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications in 1975.
After graduating from Northern Michigan University, Howie worked as a sales manager for Xerox and eventually at Hamamaplast, a Swedish company that sold home appliances. One of their business clients seemed to be selling a particular appliance far more than any of the other clients and Howie noticed this. It was a small coffee business purchasing coffee grinders as if they were going out of style. This motivated Howie to visit them one day.
Howie discovered that the business was owned by an English teacher, a history teacher, and a writer. Jerry, Zev, and Gordon were college buddies who loved their coffee, hence the purchasing of all of the coffee grinders! These co-owners and friends were so passionate about coffee, they decided to open their own coffee shop.
It wasn’t the best timing for the three. Instant coffee had lost its popularity by the end of the 1960’s and, believe it or not, the vast majority of U.S. citizens who drank coffee at the time drank, well… coffee. there was no Cinnamon Dolce Crème, Espresso Con Panna, or Iced Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte to be found on the menu! Needless to say, business was slow at the coffee shop.
Howie tried the coffee they served and loved it immediately! In fact, he remembers whispering to himself when he left, “Oh my Gosh, what a wonderful business, what a wonderful city! I want to be a part of this.”
This company held steadfast to its customer service and marketing approach, which eventually made them popular and unique. They didn’t just make and serve, they taught customers the art of making good coffee.
Howie loved the approach as much as he loved their coffee. At 29-years-old, he begged for a job to work for them. He even tried to convince them that they could open many more stores and be successful.
The owners were skeptical and were afraid that their business practices would be compromised. So they said ‘no’ to the rapid expansion, but ‘yes’ to hiring Howie as their Marketing Director. He made less than half of what he was earning at Hamamaplast but he saw potential and took the risk. Howie was right.
Howard Schultz (a.k.a. Howie) ended up eventually buying the business and expanding it even beyond his own wildest dreams. The company? Starbucks Corporation. Howard Schultz stepped down from his position as Starbucks CEO in February of 2017. Not bad for a poor kid from Brooklyn, eh?
Source: Howard Schultz: A childhood in the projects inspired ambition by CNNMoney on YouTube and The Bronx Historical Society. Also, Howard Schultz Biography: Success Story of Starbucks CEO.