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Howard Schultz: We need humility and servant leadership from our elected officials

The morning after the election, Starbucks (SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz, who supported Hillary Clinton, sent a letter to more than 120,000 Starbucks employees in the US.

“Last night, like so many of you, I watched the election returns with family and friends. And like so many of our fellow Americans – both Democrats and Republicans – I am stunned,” he wrote. He then offered a message of optimism and added that it’s “our responsibility as citizens to give him the opportunity to govern well and bring our country together.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Yahoo Finance asked Schultz about the advice he would give President-elect Donald Trump as he prepares to take office.

“First of all, I’m not in a position to give the president-elect any advice,” Schultz said in the video above.

“I would say it this way: I think the country obviously has gone through a very divisive period. We need a level of humility and servant leadership from all of our elected officials to try and bring people together.”

On Tuesday evening, Schultz attended an event in New York that honored the memory and legacy of Robert F. Kennedy. At the event, Schultz was honored with the “Ripple of Hope Award.”

“I think [Kennedy’s] words of compassion and empathy and love are probably more relevant more necessary than ever before,” Schultz said.

Growing up in public housing in Brooklyn, Schultz has described himself as “living proof” of the American dream.

When asked about the status of the American dream today, he said: “I look at the promise of America and the American dream and I think a lot of people feel as if it’s not available to them. I think that is the responsibility of our elected officials and business leaders to do everything we can to elevate the national opportunity and create hope and opportunity for everyone.”

Reuters/ David Ryder

He continued: “I mean, I’m troubled by a number of things in the country in terms of almost 6 million young people who are not in school and not working. One out of every six Americans goes hungry every night. We have a crisis in our country in terms of homelessness. I think there are a number of social issues that are very difficult that need to be addressed.”

He added that Starbucks feels the responsibility “to elevate the national conversation and national discourse on these issues.”

“The American dream and the promise of America must be available to everyone.”

Starbucks was the first to give equity in the form of stock options to its employees. The coffee giant also set a precedent for giving healthcare to every employee, including part-time staff. This past year, Starbucks started offering free college tuition for its employees.

Schultz attributed his management style to wanting to build the kind of company that his father never got to work for. Schultz’s father held a number of “rough” blue-collar jobs and never found meaning in his work, Schultz wrote in his 2011 best-selling book, “Onward.” Schultz’s father died of lung cancer in 1988, and his parents never got to see the level of success he has attained.

For emerging entrepreneurs today, Schultz tells them to “continue to dream big dreams, surround yourself with people who have experience and are smarter than you, but make sure you’re involved with people that have like-minded values, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re dreams and aspirations can’t come true.”

“Despite the challenges, I’m very optimistic about the future of the country and the entrepreneurial opportunities that exist.”

Schultz announced his resignation as CEO last week. On April 3, he’ll step aside, assuming the role of executive chairman, while Kevin Johnson, the company’s president and COO, will take over as CEO.

In the executive chairman role, Schultz is going to focus on the company’s involvement in social causes and growing its high-end stores.


Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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