We are in San Francisco on what is supposed to be the city’s most crowded weekend of the year. SF is expecting one million visitors to come in for various events — the Blue Angels air show, the America’s Cup World Series Race, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, play-offs for major league baseball team San Francisco Giants and American football team San Francisco 49ers — lined up during the next two days. Nevertheless, we’ve agreed to brave the hustle and bustle of Union Square for the opportunity to meet Jason Jennings, one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the US. Of all the personalities in the Masterspeak list, Jennings is the most colourful — he has been a broadcast journalist, a radio station owner, a media consultant and a writer. We’re waiting for him at a Starbucks outlet, which is particularly apt given that it is Jennings’ favourite example of how an upstart got everything right, lost its way and then reinvented itself. Once Jennings arrives, the conversation moves swiftly from Starbucks to Steve Jobs and how companies fail because they can’t let go.
Since we are sitting at Starbucks and you’re an admirer of the company, let’s start with a Starbucks question. What sets it apart?
I can tell you exactly what sets it apart. As it happens, I went to university with Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. We both started at Northern Michigan University and knew each other a long time ago. Here is what makes it great. Schultz built this iconic brand into about 13,000 locations around the world at that time. In 2001, he said, I am done with this and I want to do some other things with my life. He stepped down as CEO. Immediately, the tom-tom drums began in the US that coffee was going to be out of favour and would be replaced by energy drinks and tea; Starbucks was a one-trick pony and it would fade; and that it had got as far as it could go. Soon enough, that started happening and performance started slipping. Starbucks started losing revenue. They were at $11 billion and fell to $8 billion; they lost 30% of their revenue — that’s significant.
Schultz came back in and the first thing he did was take 10,