Keynote Speaker Encourages Taking a Human Perspective

This year’s Annual Congress keynote speaker was Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee North America and Starbucks International. Behar led Starbucks’s domestic business for 21 years before becoming the founding president of Starbucks International, opening the company’s first store outside of North America in Japan. He participated in the growth of the company from only 28 stores to more than 15,000 spanning five continents. He served on the Starbucks board of directors for 12 years before retiring.

Behar encouraged everyone in the audience to take a broader perspective when looking at any type of transaction in a business environment. Instead of simply seeing a business—be it selling coffee or providing healthcare—as a means of getting money, Behar stressed that everyone should view business transactions as one person treating another honestly and ethically.

He said that before he was officially hired as a Starbucks employee, he spent time working with dock workers and baristas to see how the company treated its employees. What he saw encouraged him to sign on.

“I could tell that this place wasn’t about coffee; it was about people,” said Behar. He said that the company’s commitment to providing healthcare to every employee was a decision Starbucks made from the start, and it wasn’t a monetary decision, but a human one.

“There’s only one reason any of us are put on this earth, and it’s about serving people,” he said. Behar said that CRNAs are also in the people business, and many of the same lessons he learned in the coffee world can also apply to healthcare.

Behar shared with the audience his three leadership principles. The first is to “wear one hat.” This means a person should establish a specific set of values and be true to them, not changing because they think another person wants them to. He related a story of one of his first jobs where his CEO told him not to “wear his heart on his sleeve” so much and stay quiet during board meetings. Behar tried taking this advice and found himself miserable. He decided that he needed to formulate what his core values were and stick to them.

His second principle is that “the person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom.” In other words, leaders should trust the people they hire to know what tools work best. He shared how a store manager thought of a drink that customers would love, but the other executives thought it was a terrible idea. The manager convinced Behar to test run the drink, and the Frappuccino turned into a wild success.

“When we don’t listen, then we’re not getting the best from our people,” said Behar.

His third leadership principle is to “care like you really mean it.” Behar discussed Starbucks’s commitment to healthcare for its employees, noting how, when founder Howard Schultz heard that an employee was dying of AIDS, committed to paying the employee’s salary and healthcare costs until his death. This was in the 1980s when the company only consisted of 28 stores.

“That message has stayed in the company all these years,” said Behar. “When you care about human beings, you have to really mean it.”