After Howard Schultz, the Starbucks titan with an estimated net worth of nearly $3.5 billion, appeared on 60 Minutes and suggested that he may run for President of the United States as an Independent, the media immediately began to focus on what the effect of a serious independent candidate could do to the 2020 election, with some speculating that Schultz could pave the way for Donald Trump’s re-election in the same way that Texas mogul Ross Perot’s independent bid in 1992 allowed Bill Clinton to oust George H.W. Bush.
But, when I saw the news, I did not immediately think about the presidential election implications, but rather, the reason why Schultz is a public figure in the first place.
When he was running the coffee house Il Giorna, the owner of Starbucks (which then had only six locations in the Seattle area) approached Schultz to buy the six stores for $3.8 million. Schultz, while trying to raise the money, told his Il Giorna investors about the opportunity. One of those investors, who remains nameless to this day, contacted Starbucks and tried to buy out the coffeehouse without any involvement from Schultz.
Schultz met with prominent attorney Bill Gates Sr. (yes, the father of you know who), and told him what had happened. Gates Sr. famously stormed into the office of the attempted buyer and told him that he would make his life hell by providing free legal representation to anyone injured on that man’s premises for the rest of his life, and the unnamed Il Giorna investor backed off.
If that moment didn’t happen, and Schultz had to use some other vehicle to become wealthy, would we have heard of him today? Probably not. The implications about the importance of networking capital (being in a position to reach Bill Gates Sr.), having capital during entrepreneurship (thus avoiding situations where the capital holders rip you off), and courage (not immediately cowering when someone wealthy arrives as a competitor) are worth examining because these principles manifest in our lives daily, albeit with less apparent stakes.
I don’t know what is going to come of the Howard Schultz presidential campaign, or what effect it will have on Trump’s re-election bid, but in the meantime, I continue to reflect on the pivot points that explain why Howard Schultz is a public figure in the first place. He fortunately got his hands on an asset that peddles a habit-forming drug (literally, that’s the medical definition of caffeine) and rode it to 28% profit margins by appealing to people who wanted a daily, mild luxury.
If I had to speculate why Schultz is a liberal (even though he’d be running as an independent), I would guess that the vulnerability he felt as a young entrepreneur, living in a world that can prey upon your best efforts, translated into a spiritual camaraderie with those who have so little that they also have to go through each negotiated point of life with a lower amount of bargaining power in each make-it-or-break-it moment and he knows how different your life outcome can be depending upon which side of the thin line you find yourself.