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When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO in 2008, he called up Keith Yamashita, the founder and chairman of consultancy SYPartners.Yamashita had already worked with big names in business — including Steve Jobs, and companies like Nike, Gap, P&G — on how to revitalize their brands and restore morale, and Schultz was looking for a miracle worker.
We recently spoke with Yamashita about how he helped Schultz turn Starbucks around during the darkest days of the recession. “We worked side-by-side with Howard and committed to doing a deep analysis of what’s really going on,” he says. “His main hypothesis was that Starbucks had wandered from its core essential character.”
One of the first things Schultz did was corral all the top executives into a loft in Downtown Seattle. They were told not to bring anything. When they got there, each person was given an iPod and a card that said, “What’s required to reinvent an icon?” The room was covered with Beatles paraphernalia, and on the iPods were all the songs the Beatles ever created. After two hours, Schultz asked the executives what they could do to reinvent Starbucks — beginning with the question, “What makes the company unique?” Management ultimately re-wrote the mission statement “at every level of the business,” says Yamashita.
Schultz also detailed this pivotal moment in his book, “Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul“:
Using The Beatles as a metaphor for an iconic brand was, I thought, brilliant. It swept us into a creative process, providing fresh context for us to examine and speak about ourselves and the company. Most of us were enthused (although I noticed a few who were lost or rolling their eyes at the exercise) …
We considered other brands that had also evolved, some radically, but had still preserved their stature, some even after taking a hit. Brands such as Apple, Gucci, Mini Cooper. Even New York City.
Yamashita says that Schultz figured out the one key thing every great leader knows. “First, you must have a sense of purpose,” he says. “That’s what Steve Jobs taught me. The belief that what we are doing will make a difference in the world. Great teams understand the forces with and against them — what stands in the way.”
Yamashita’s team also helped orchestrate Starbucks’ huge conference for 12,000 store managers in New Orleans a few months later, which Schultz credits in his book as being a crucial part of the company’s turnaround strategy.
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