Notes from ‘Onward’


Onward by Howard Schultz is the story of Starbucks coffee chain narrated by the CEO and founder himself. Here are some notable quotes/ideas from the book that I thought are worth sharing:

1. Once Paul McCartney was asked to identify the beginning of the end regarding The Beatles breaking up. He recounted the story of about the first time The Beatles played New York’s Shea Stadium in the summer of 1965 to 50,000 screaming hysterical fans, the largest crowd the band has ever performed for live. Amidst the clamor and chaos, as the story goes, The Beatles could not even hear their own music. Their art was drowned out by their popularity. It was massive shows like this that were, Paul had said in retrospect, the beginning of the band’s end. In situations like this, we must ask ourselves, “When did we stop hearing our own music?” It is always good to identify when we slowly start embracing mediocrity. – Music
2. Expanding global presence while making each store the heart of the local neighborhood.
3. Ethical sourcing and environmental impact.
4. Creating innovative growth platforms.
5. Delivering a sustainable economic model.
6. How businesses can inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person at a time, how the work is never done, and how to preserve humanity. – Music
7. Customization is a great way to enhance the experience and an opportunity to incentivize and reward the biggest fans/customers. – Music
8. Human behavior is much more challenging to change than any muffin recipe or marketing strategy. Preserving company culture adds an intangible value.
9. “Variety – to accommodate the habits, whims, and desires of human behavior.”
10. Growth can be a carcinogen diverting attention from revenue and cost-saving opportunities and effectively managing expenses.
11. Creating a sense of cool is to give the middle-class people in the society exactly what they thought they wanted. A better strategy would be to be relevant instead of ‘cool’.
12. “For the independent landowner, a single vacancy at a strip mall might mean not being able to pay the bills or delaying retirement.”
13. Innovation is creating products that right out of the gate transformed consumer behavior. To achieve this, we need to focus on the right, relevant things for the people and the brand.
14. “Few things in life are more personal than arriving home in the middle of a workday to contemplate an uncertain future. Rarely do we make the effort or take the time to step back and question whether we made the most of our resources.”
15. “We each had a responsibility to help ourselves and recognize that every little act matters: A store manager’s job is not to oversee millions of customer transactions a week, but one transaction millions of times a week.”
16. “The great companies of this century will be sharp to success and at the same time sensitive to the idea that you can’t measure the true success of a company on a spreadsheet.” – Music
17. “The more critical the times, the more important it is for a board and CEO to work together in a non-political and unemotional, fact-focused way.”
18. “The reason most instant coffee is so vastly inferior to high-quality brewed coffee is because its manufacturers subject poor-quality beans to intense water extraction and drying processes that strip the beans of their natural aromatic compounds and flavors. Yet, instant coffee consumers accepted this mediocrity. Their palates had adapted. Moreover, without customers demanding a better product, consumer goods companies focused on making water-soluble coffee as cost-effectively as possible. As a result, the instant coffee market had not seen any real innovation since just after World-War II.”
19. “Sometimes, the earliest days of Starbucks seemed very far away. Like straining to remember the sound of your child’s voice as a toddler as he or she heads off to college, Starbucks’ nascent days got more elusive as the company grew.”
20. “The best innovations sense and fulfill a need before others realize the need even exists, creating a new mindset. It is good to build a brand platform from which other products would arise.”
21. “Any company, when faced with adversity, would be tempted to go forward with an idea that promises to erase the pain quickly. However, in business and life, people have to stay true to their guiding principles. To their cores. Whatever they may be.”
22. “Innovation is not only about rethinking products, but also rethinking the nature of relationships.”
23. Sometimes our businesses can play a significant role in a country’s economic and emotional recovery. – Margazhi Music Fest amidst Chennai Floods Relief Work
24. “The raw feeling of accomplishing something that others did not think possible, or leading people beyond where they thought they could go, is extremely gratifying.”
25. “Focusing on proactive growth was a right we had earned by virtue of transforming the US business, a privilege that I would never take for granted.”
26. “Grow with discipline. Balance intuition with rigor. Innovate around the core. Don’t embrace the status quo. Find new ways to see. Never expect a silver bullet. Get your hands dirty. Listen with empathy and overcommunicate with transparency. Tell your story, refusing to let others define you. Use authentic experiences to inspire. Stick to your values, they are your foundation. Hold people accountable but give them the tools to succeed. Make the tough choices; it is how you execute that counts. Be decisive in times of crisis. Be nimble. Find truth in trials and lessons in mistakes. Be responsible for what you see, hear, and do. Believe.”
27. “Growth is not a strategy. It is a tactic. Moreover, when undisciplined growth becomes a strategy, we will lose our way.”