Starbucks CEO Takes Stand on Gay Marriage Issue
Posted by Chris Emami on March 25, 2013
I generally prefer to post about local issues but this caught my eye with the Supreme Court beginning their talks on gay marriage tomorrow.
Frederick E. Allen from Forbes Magazine wrote an article about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz taking a pretty hard stand in support of gay marriage at the company annual meeting. I will first post the article and give my brief thoughts on this afterwards.
Howard Schultz to Anti-Gay-Marriage Starbucks Shareholder: ‘You Can Sell Your
At Starbucks’ annual meeting in Seattle on Wednesday a shareholder complained to the chief executive, Howard Schultz, that the company had lost customers because of its support for gay marriage. Last year Starbucks announced its support for Washington’s state’s referendum backing gay marriage, and in response the National Organization for Marriage launched a boycott of the coffee chain.
“In the first full quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings, shall we say politely, were a bit disappointing,” said the shareholder, Tom Strobhar, whom the Huffington Post identifies at the founder of the anti-gay marriage Corporate Morality Action Center.
Was Schultz taken aback? Not in the least. He responded, “Not every decision is an economic decision. Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38% shareholder return over the last year. I don’t know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38% over the last 12 months. Having said that, it is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.”
At that point the audience interrupted in cheers and applause. Then Schultz concluded, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” More cheers.
A Washington Post poll this week found that support for gay marriage among Americans has shot up to 58% in favor and 36% against, a complete turnaround in less than 10 years. Schultz’s stand isn’t nearly as daring as it would have been a few years back, but still, it’s impressive to see a CEO think about more than the bottom line and get cheered by his shareholders for it.
See a video of Schultz’s remark, courtesy of the Puget Sound Business
Clearly Shultz fears very strongly about this issue and believes in what he is supporting based on his comments. With the looming Supreme Court decision expected this year I expect to hear more from businesses and non-political folks on the issue but I think that this is a huge mistake.
My personal opinions are that businesses should focus on trying to increase revenues in whatever way possible. People who are opposed to gay marriage might continue to purchase products from their but the odds are that some won’t. As an example I recently posted on Facebook that my computer had crashed and a few people recommended that I purchase a service that backs up your data automatically such as www.carbonite.com. I ended up signing up with this service after much consideration due to numerous recommendations and high reviews on different websites from users. A liberal Facebook friend then lashed out about www.carbonite.com being a terrible choice because they advertise on the Rush Limbaugh radio show. It would not have mattered to me whether they advertised on Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, or Conan I was simply looking for a solid product. Clearly some people are influenced in a negative way by what certain companies do in the political realm.
Starbucks has potentially painted itself into a corner by taking this position. In fairness my opinion does not reflect the specific position that Starbucks took as I have the same issue with Chic-Fil-A who took the opposite stand on the issue. Starbucks should focus on making/selling coffee and Chic-Fil-A should focus on making/selling chicken sandwiches as most people couldn’t care less where they stand on political/policy issues. It’s not like Congress was waiting to hear from Colonel Sanders before they voted on Obamacare.