Former Starbucks president addresses racially-linked Philadelphia arrests

Former president of Starbucks Coffee Company International Howard Behar sat down with Chapman’s Director of Leadership Studies Mark Maier for a fireside chat Apr. 18. Photo by Ian Craddock


Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks, came to campus Wednesday night intending to speak about servant leadership in the business industry. However, his message was overshadowed by talk of the controversial arrests in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week.

The company has been accused of racial profiling after a manager called the police to remove two black men from the store, who sat inside without ordering anything.

Just minutes into his speech, without pressure or questioning from the audience, Behar broke the silence. He voiced his disappointment in the company and in the handling of the situation.

“It was devastating,” Behar said. “Not because someone made a mistake, but how did we fail? How did we fail as leaders, how could that possibly be?”

He did not take this lightly, because according to Behar, Starbucks is a social company and is all about the people.

“We’re not a coffee business serving people, we’re a people business serving coffee,” he said.

However, he does not blame the individual store manager. Behar believes the top leadership of an organization should take responsibility for mistakes like this.

“We own it. We take responsibility. We take a bullet. It wasn’t that store manager’s fault,” Behar said.

Prior to coming to Chapman, he met with Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz to discuss how the company would move forward. Behar said that Schultz felt as if everything was crashing down around him. He relayed that Schultz is taking the situation personally, with everything he stands for being questioned, but Behar reassured him they would get past it.

“We agreed that [Starbucks] would survive this. We know who we are and we do what we do,” he said.

He expressed his sympathy for the store manager, Holly Hylton, who has stepped down since the incident.

“I can’t imagine what [Hylton] is going through. No matter what she did, it was wrong, but I don’t know her story. I hold her accountable, but also myself and the other leadership,” Behar said. “She’s going to learn a deep price and a valuable lesson, and I hope she takes it to heart.”

Following his talk, the audience was given the opportunity to ask Behar questions. Patrick Hart asked if he felt that rule-following or reconciliation was more important in this situation.

“Reconciliation is more important and there is no question about it,” Behar said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have policies when it comes to safety and how you treat your people. But besides that we have almost nothing.”

Regarding the racial-bias training Starbucks announced it would mandate for all its employees nationwide May 29, Matt Barraro asked what challenges would come with this.

“The training is not going to solve the problem. What it does is get everyone’s attention. That’s about what you can expect out of four hours of training,” Behar said. “Now, every officer and every manager that comes through the store will be taught through the same voice and establish the same set of values. My belief is that we’re going to learn some valuable lessons about this. It was a wake-up call that we were complacent.”

Rachael Kaufhold

Leave a Reply