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Tina Casey headshot

Hire More Veterans: Starbucks Did and Never Looked Back

By Tina Casey

Four years ago, Starbucks embarked on a program to hire 10,000 veterans by 2018. The company reached that target well ahead of time, but it did not stop for a breather. Last week, Starbucks announced a new goal of hiring 25,000 veterans and their spouses by 2025.

The Starbucks experience offers a compelling illustration of the impact veterans can have on corporate culture, and on the relationships among a company's employees, their families and their communities.

Veteran culture, meet corporate culture

In an exclusive interview with TriplePundit, Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges described one key reason why Starbucks decided to increase its veteran hiring goals.

Borges said veterans tend to motivate the entire team within a store. That "elevation," as the company describes it, goes far beyond the store walls.

When Borges talks about elevating a team, he is referring to the level of engagement between partners (Starbucks's preferred word for employees) and their communities.

Community engagement is an area of critical importance to Starbucks, which has positioned itself as the "third place" that comes right after home and work in terms of where people connect with each other.

Starbucks has found that military veterans and their spouses tend to engage more with their communities in volunteer capacities and other activities, Borges told us, and there is a strong ripple effect on non-military partners. The company has seen that when veterans and their spouses are part of a team, the non-military partners also become more active and involved.

Borges also noted that veterans come to Starbucks equipped with years of immersion in a culture of leadership, discipline and teamwork. These are essential life skills that apply to food service and many other sectors.

Mining employees for corporate social responsibility

The veteran hiring program also relates to an other area that Borges discussed with TriplePundit.

Starbucks relies heavily on input from its partners to shape its corporate social responsibility (CSR) profile.

As Borges describes it, with a workforce of approximately 330,000, Starbucks has a built-in sounding board for new ideas from communities across the globe:

"One of the great benefits we have is our partner audience," said Borges of Starbucks. "We pride ourselves on listening to their needs and wants and desires."
The flip side is also essential:
"If we think it is something our partners won't be proud of, then we don't want to be part of it."
Starbucks's College Achievement Plan and FoodShare are two examples of programs that grew out of partner concerns.

The growing veteran workforce will give Starbucks yet another level of insight into the communities it serves, Borges told us.

Starbucks also plans to add 100 more stores near military bases by 2025, offering the company even more ears to the ground on veterans' issues.

CSR, meet crisis management

On a broader level, the veteran hiring program also demonstrates the value of proactively embarking on solid corporate social responsibility initiatives -- before a boycott or other crisis erupts.

Starbucks is a big target, and it powered through a string of short-lived boycotts over the past several years. The most recent one hit on Jan. 29, when the company pushed back against President Donald Trump's so-called Muslim ban by pledging to hire more refugees.

That provoked the white nationalist-affiliated organization Breitbart to issue a call for Trump supporters to boycott the company.

If the veteran hiring pledge was a new initiative, Starbucks could have exposed itself to more criticism for using veterans as a shield against negative publicity. But the initial goal was set four years ago, long before Trump's ant-immigrant sentiments took the form of an executive order.

Around that time, Starbucks also set its initial goal of locating 30 new stores near military bases.

Starbucks reached the 30-store goal last fall. On Sept. 22 -- again, long before the restrictions on Muslim travelers -- the company ramped up its commitment to veterans' issues with a pledge to leverage those locations to provide services for veterans. Here's a snippet from the press release:

"With the support of the 30 Military Family Stores across the U.S., Starbucks will now focus on programs that address the specific needs of veterans, military spouses and active-duty service members," the company said last year. "This includes Military Mondays, a collaboration between local veteran service organizations and Starbucks that offers pro bono legal support and other veteran and military spouse services."

When boycotts (don't) work

Despite Starbucks's track record on veterans' issues, last week Bloomberg positioned the increased hiring goal as a defensive maneuver. The headline was this: Starbucks Doubles Down on Military Hiring After Boycott Threats.

And, here is the lede:

"Starbucks Corp., after facing a backlash for promising to hire refugees, plans to employ more U.S. military veterans."
However, the article does not provide any details that support a relationship between the boycott and the hiring announcement.

In fact, the veterans pledge was just one part of a three-part announcement Starbucks issued on March 22 -- which also included a strong reaffirmation of its refugee hiring pledge:

"The company has formed an advisory relationship with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees," Starbucks said in a press release last week. "As part of the effort, Starbucks is partnering globally with the International Rescue Committee and the Tent Foundation. In the United States, the company is allied with No One Left Behind, an organization that assists American military allies who served alongside American armed forces."
Bloomberg's Leslie Patton did not include any of the above information on refugees in the article. Instead, she closed with some new menu items that were not part of the March 22 announcement:

"[Starbucks] will begin selling a new line of grab-and-go salads and sandwiches, dubbed 'Mercato,' in Chicago next month. Starbucks also is trying to lure more diners with a gluten-free breakfast sandwich and vegan bagel."

Who knew?

Despite the Bloomberg article, Breitbart's latest foray into "hashtag activism" seems to have run out of steam before it began, demonstrating yet again that most boycotts fail.

Breitbart has obsessively covered the so-called Starbucks boycott from the beginning, but there was no apparent impact on the company in the days immediately following Jan. 29.

In an update reported on March 11, Starbucks told Reuters its performance metrics did not shift after Breitbart issued its call for a boycott.

Opportunities for youth

In addition to covering veteran and refugee initiatives, Starbucks's March 22 announcement also included an update on its Opportunity Youth program for young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in school or working.

As with the focus on veterans, Opportunity Youth combines employment with the location of new stores in communities where partners have their own roots.

The program also leverages support from other employers through the Opportunity Coalition. Potential hires are recruited at job fairs with multiple employers on the scene. The aim is to provide a supportive environment where youth can experience a more supportive environment than they would encounter in a typical job interview.

Starbucks initially aimed to hire 10,000 young people as part of Opportunity Youth by 2018. The company has already rocketed past that with 40,000 hires, and it now hopes to reach 100,000 by 2020.

Borges says that, like veterans, these young people bring a unique dynamic to their teams:

"There is a level of hunger and desire to be successful. They are looking for a chance. It's not so much what we are doing; we are just giving them the opportunity. The effort is all theirs."
It looks like Starbucks will just keep on being Starbucks, Breitbart or not.

Photo (cropped): by Faye via flickr.com, creative commons license.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

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