PHOTOGRAPHY BY: BRIAN SMALE
bıg The four- h
By Tim Talevich
The once upstart
turns 40. How does
middle age feel,
and what’s next?
30 ;e Costco Connection APRIL 2011
IT COULD BE A BIT worrisome that
Starbucks, the world’s biggest coffee company, took its name from one of fiction’s
biggest tales of hubris, Moby-Dick. The
myopic Captain Ahab undertakes an ill-conceived, headstrong journey to slay
Moby Dick, the whale, only to lead his
crew—including a hapless first mate named
Starbuck—to a watery demise.
For the first part of the new millennium, the coffee company seemed on a similar course. Starbucks
pursued an Ahab-esque expansion plan, opening as
many as six new stores per day. But while the company was growing stores—and thrilling Wall Street
with short-term results—it wasn’t growing a business. Costs weren’t watched, supply chains broke
down, shortcuts such as resteaming milk crept into
the operations and at times you couldn’t even smell
coffee in a Starbucks, thanks to food that made the
places smell more like a diner than a sanctuary for
bean purists. It all exacted a steep price: a commod-itization of the original coffeehouse experience, or
part of Starbucks’ soul.
But now, as the past half decade fades as an unpleasant memory and the company celebrates its 40th
anniversary (March 30), the ship is righted. The turnaround ranks as one of the country’s most dramatic at a
time when a number of other major companies failed.