So, there was a huge issue created by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks Coffee. The issue was over his response to a shareholder to asked about the stance that Starbucks has taken (and not just recently) regarding same-sex marriage. You can watch his exact comments here. Having spent eight years in the business world and now being a pastor, I wanted to make some observations and comments and try and answer this question.
The reality is that Starbucks has had this position for some time. This story has been in a number of business reports and business journals recently so it is clear that it happened. In my opinion, CEOs need to stay out of politics. Nothing good ever happens when you make insensitive comments for either side. When you have an investor ask about supporting a certain cause, you don’t make the kind of comments that the Starbucks CEO did. He made a clear point in saying that, “This is not an economic issue…!” He repeated this a number of times, making it clear that this was the side of a MORAL issue that they were taking a stand on. Unfortunately, it is this sort of thing that outrages people. I love Starbucks coffee and I meet people there all the time for ministry purposes. I don’t intend on changing that. My point is that this was a dumb business move on the part of this CEO and he and Starbucks will probably feel it as a result.
I supported Chick-Fil-A when they made the choice (unwisely from my standpoint) to delve into this issue. They faced the wrath of the gay and lesbian community. Clearly, all was not rainbows during those days and I felt that Chick-Fil-A was standing for the side of the moral issue that I agreed with and believed myself. The Starbucks CEO was doing the same thing, only on the opposite side of things. Should they feel the wrath of traditional marriage advocates shouting obscenities and boycotting their business? I didn’t think Chick-Fil-A should have and I don’t believe Starbucks should either and won’t because families don’t really have the time to do that sort of thing. But here are some clear observations from this entire situation:
1) Businesses should remain businesses. When I was running my real estate business, I had laws and rules that governed the way that I conducted myself and my business. I worked with all sorts of people because that is what I was being hired to do. My morals and my ethics never changed, but it was not my job or place to pass judgement or to comment with my thoughts about the way another individual was living their life. Morals and ethics govern practice and every business has the right to practice in the way that they see fit. But they need to do it quietly. It is challenging but imperative that companies be willing to serve all consumers. This is business 101.
2) Businesses should stay out of politics. Like it or not, this was a political statement on the part of this CEO who took a position and alienated one group of people by doing so. Perhaps it would have been a bit more wise to indicate that they as a company were serving all consumers regardless of race or sexual orientation, etc., etc. But that isn’t what he did.
3) In reality, the Starbucks CEO didn’t understand what he was saying. He clearly stated his personal (and perhaps the company’s) position on same-sex marriage and in a very polite tone stated that this investor could take his money away from Starbucks and invest it somewhere else. Guess what, some of those investors are going to do that, and if they do that, Starbucks loses money. Couple that with consumers doing the same thing, and you have created a serious issue for your business. Perhaps Starbucks doesn’t think it is an issue at all, but ask JCPenny what happened when they chose to go this route. That CEO no longer has a job and JCPenny suffered serious financial strain as a result.
4) At the end of the day, people have a right to spend their money the way they see fit. I don’t see the need for a boycott, but I would have to honestly say that I might think twice about how much business I give them. If there is another coffee shop close to one (which there is in almost every case) I may chose to go there instead. You add millions of consumers who chose to do the same thing, along with investors who are going to take Mr. Schultz’s advice and invest elsewhere and things are not going to be pretty for Starbucks. This is the quiet voice of the moral majority in our country who WILL show support (or a lack of it) with their pocket book.
I believe that our country is a center-right country morally and politically. When a CEO says to an investor (and to the American people), we are taking this stand morally and you don’t have to support us, the reality is that people will agree with him and not support them. Pro-marriage advocates showed up in force to support the Chic-Fil-A’s position. I am wondering who will show up to support Starbucks. Perhaps Howard Schultz and fired JCPenny CEO Ron Johnson will be having a cup of coffee together during their unplanned vacations. Time will only tell.