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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On the Suitability of Starbucks’ CEO Triggering Conversations on Race

Should a company’s CEO use the vast tentacles of the local retail stores to prompt public discourse on race in America? Even though improving race relations is a good cause, extending a CEO’s personal influence beyond the products societally requires its own justification. For a week in March 2015, baristas at 12,000 Starbucks coffee shops implemented CEO Howard Schultz’s intent to “spark customer conversation on the topic of race.”[1] Schultz even made a video in which he told the baristas how they should steer their respective conversations. If this sounds a bit like George Orwell’s Big Brother in the novel, 1984, the question may be whether such societal influence is legitimate from a position of management in business.

1. Bruce Horovitz, “USA TODAY, Starbucks Tackle Race Relations,” USA Today, March 17, 2015.