Former Starbucks executive speaks on ‘people over profits’


Author: Henry Dickmeyer



As 12:30 p.m. approached on Feb. 22, Mosher 1 slowly filled with the chatter of excited coffee lovers. Some came from the Green Bean with their to-go cups in hand; others drove in from the surrounding community. Faculty, administration, community members and students alike came to watch the former Starbucks executive Howard Behar give his lecture named, “People Over Profits: Principles of Personal Leadership.”

Behar’s lecture hardly referenced coffee. He did not mention that he was the founder of Starbucks International, that he oversaw Tokyo’s first Starbucks shop open in 1996 or that he put Starbucks on two additional continents, Asia and Europe. 

Behar’s message was simple: servant leadership is the key to success.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about the coffee. It’s about the people,” Behar said in his lecture.

The former Starbucks president’s main focus was how he became the businessman he is today. He discussed his promotion as a 27 year-old, working as Vice President of Grantree Furniture Rental. As a young business executive, he was told to be less of an emotional leader and more of a removed, “stoic” leader.

“In those days, you did not question authority. You just do, and you perform,” Behar said.

Behar discoveredthe difference between business for the people and business for the product during his time as an executive in the retail business for the company.

Behar joined Starbucks in 1989. There, he developed his six tools, or “Six P’s,” for a successful business: purpose, passion, persistence, patience, performance and people. With these tools, according to Behar, aspiration towards helping others is the key to success.

The reason the administration tapped Behar to speak at Occidental was due in large part to his message about serving others.

According to the mission statement, Occidental’s philosophy revolves around serving others through its academia, opportunities and involvement.

“Howard Behar is a strong example of someone being able to apply a values-based approach toward leadership of a major organization. His insights about how to lead, ‘from me to we’ as he says, apply to all of us and seem to fit well with the interdisciplinary nature of a place like Occidental,” Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Brett Schraeder said.

“I believe that this message is very consistent with what I’ve seen as the type of student we hope to develop at Occidental College.” Assistant Director for Student Organizations & Leadership Justin Gerboc said. “I personally hope that Oxy students find ways to develop a solid understanding of themselves.” 

Gerboc appreciated Behar’s message of believing that finding what truly matters in business, service and leadership is key.

“If we looked at our values and started living them, I believe that much of the hardship and inequity that we see could be corrected,” Gerboc said.

Occidental adheres to its mission statement by providing opportunities for students to become leaders like Behar

Extra-curricular leadership programs such as the Emerging Leaders program, the Alternative Spring Break program and the Values and Vocations Fellowship are examples of Occidental’s commitment to making sure students have service in mind.        

Behar’s book, “It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Lessons From a Life at Starbucks,” is now available at the Occidental Bookstore.

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