Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Book: How Starbucks Changed the World

A book about its strategies, innovations and leaders, about how it is coping with the downturn and planning for the future

Published: Sep 14, 2010 06:58:51 AM IST
Updated: Sep 9, 2010 04:51:43 PM IST

Starbucks changed the way we understood coffee and built a $10 billion business in less than 40 years. A book about its strategies, innovations and leaders, about how it is coping with the downturn and planning for the future, is simply irresistible.

Though there is a virtual cottage industry on books about the company — led by Chairman & CEO Howard Schultz himself — perhaps there was room for one more. After all, the world’s second-greatest economic catastrophe has made it mandatory to revisit notions about business success.

But you’d be better off searching for a Starbucks in Afghanistan than for strategy insights in this book.

Bussing-Burks admiringly recounts the company’s history, sprinkling in tidbits on the coffee industry, coffee recipes, quotes from great leaders, reproductions of company statements and newspaper snippets, missing no opportunity to peddle the corporate line on competition, the environment, community work and so on.

It is not that she doesn’t try to discuss strategy. For instance, she finds “marketing genius at work” when the 12-ounce ‘small’ cup is renamed ‘tall’. And the decision to sell a corporate jet as a cost-control strategy is worth two pages. “Starbucks is always thinking and always cutting-edge,” she says, and proceeds to recommend a number of blends. She establishes Starbucks’ openness to new ideas… by pointing out that it has a Web page for suggestions.

While she allots a chapter each to controversies surrounding Starbucks and the impact of the financial meltdown, she only raises questions — with an unmistakable slant in favour of Starbucks — and leaves you to decide for yourself.

As for how Starbucks identifies opportunities and threats, finds consumer insights, encourages new ideas, manages differences among top executives, tackles complexity in product design, pre-empts competition and handles crises? Not this book. Add insipid writing and poor editing to the propagandist language, and you get a rather stale, tasteless brew.

How Starbucks Changed the World; by Marie Bussing-Burks; Jaico Books; 154 pages; Rs. 195

(This story appears in the 24 September, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)