Howard Behar: Servant Leadership [Built in Seattle Ep. #37]
2 min read

Howard Behar: Servant Leadership [Built in Seattle Ep. #37]

Former Starbucks President of North America, Howard Behar, talks about growing Starbucks from startup to icon and becoming a servant leader.

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We all know Starbucks today.

But it was just a startup when Howard Behar joined in 1989. It was unproven. Few people thought coffee shops would "work" outside of Seattle and Portland.

As the President of North America, he grew from 28 regional stores to over 15K stores around the world.

Even at scale, he was often seen in the stores talking with baristas and customers. He'd wipe the counters. He'd pick up trash.

This was key to his servant leadership.

Howard goes behind the scenes on 21 years of building Starbucks and 50 years of studying and practicing servant leadership on this episode of The Built in Seattle Podcast

Episode Highlights

  • What it was like joining Starbucks in 1989 as a startup.
  • Why it wasn't about the coffee.
  • Why and How he spent 4 days per week visiting stores.
  • "Only the Truth Sounds Like the Truth"
  • How putting stores closer together highlighted product/market fit.
  • The transition from a local niche business to international phenom.
  • The questions Howard asked to connect with people on the frontlines.
  • Why real conversations with 12 customers can beat 1M pieces of data.
  • How brutal honesty led to an enduring leadership team.
  • Why they entered Japan when people said "they aren't coffee drinkers"
  • How incremental bets & learning led to big international growth.
  • Why the most painful mistakes came from rushing.
  • The principles of Servant Leadership from 50 years of study and practice.

Howard Behar Bio

For 21 years Behar led Starbuckโ€™s domestic business as President of North America, and he became the founding President of Starbucks International opening the very first store outside of North America in Japan. During his tenure, he participated in the growth of the company from only 28 stores to over 15,000 stores spanning five continents. ย He served on the Starbucks Board of Directors for twelve years before retiring.

Howard now serves on the boards of several for-profit and non-profit organizations, including Education Element, iD Tech, The School of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University. ย He is on the advisory boards of Anthos Capital, University of Washington Foundation, and a Trustee for The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation.