Starbucks' Relationship-Focused Model

Written by Darren Fernandes

Beyond new product and services, Starbucks has upheld a commitment to strengthen its global business by supporting the diverse communities it serves. Last year, the company endorsed a Washington state bill to legalize same-sex marriage, which led the National Organization for Marriage to organize a boycott of the coffee chain. The company's endorsement was criticized last week by shareholder Thomas Strobhar, the founder of the Corporate Morality Action Centre. CEO Howard Schultz's response during last week's shareholders meeting garnered significant media attention, "If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it's a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company".


The company's decision to voice its support in the same-sex marriage debate clearly connects the values of its core customer and employees - both of which contribute to the dollars and cents of the company's bottom line. In his leadership letter, Schultz writes,

Consumers have long rewarded brands with their loyalty when they feel a company's mission and aspirations align with their own.


Further, in a Harvard Business Review post, Schultz commented on the importance of relationship-driven innovation for a prosperous business venture.


When looked at through the capitalistic lens, innovating the very nature of corporate-community relations is good business...Values increasingly drive consumer and employee loyalties. Money and talent will follow those companies whose values are compatible with their own.

Starbucks exemplifies how a company can utilize both a responsibility and relationship based approach to business, and harvest a loyal customer- and employee-base.