As a kid, I admired Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and others like him, for blazing trails to create new markets to meet the needs we didn’t yet know we had. At the time, I struggled with my own unmet needs, specifically my closeted sexuality and my yearning to figure out my life’s work. Schultz’ work spoke to me of the transformation I craved. Schultz reconfigured the coffee market by providing spaces for community connection. I redefined my identity by coming out as a gay man. And I revolutionized my values as I earned my MBA in Sustainable Business at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.
Now, years later as a happy gay man making an impact in sustainability, I see my early hero of market transformation using his influential company to again rethink the role of business. Starbucks is not the only company to tout their stance on marriage equality, but they are certainly one of the most visible. And, in my opinion they’ve earned the headlines.
The most recent news flash deeply impacted me as Schultz described to an activist shareholder that Starbucks’ endorsement of marriage equality wasn’t about making money, but about the principle of diversity. Schultz went on to say, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” In my view, he came out with that statement, not as a gay man, but as a man whose values are not fleeting or passive. I believe this stands for equality as part of a tipping point toward the full intersection of values and value creation in business.
There is still a long way to go, and not all news of corporate action makes me smile, but this step by Starbucks and so many others to connect their value of equality to their corporate identity, is a big indicator of the future. It follows a similar path to environmental action as CSR reporting, responsible sourcing, and greener operations become more and more the standard. The emerging majority of corporations are stating they value sustainability and equality, now it’s your turn.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gerod Rody is a graduate of The Bainbridge Graduate Institute with an MBA in Sustainable Business. He has since worked for BGI as Marketing Project Manager. With his spare time he runs OUT for Sustainability, a Seattle-based nonprofit connecting the LGBTQ community and sustainability that launched from BGI through classes like Creativity and Innovation and Social Justice in Business.