Starbucks serves 90 million customers each week and employs a whopping 250,000 people worldwide. The company has gone on a few well-publicized hiring missions, like pledging to hire 10,000 refugees and 10,000 veterans. 

On Thursday, CEO Kevin Johnson, who inherited the role from Howard Schultz earlier this year, discussed the company's various people-centric policies on stage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Fast Company editor Bob Safian pushed Johnson on whether policies like those can truly be defined as altruism.

"We're a for-profit company," Johnson said. "We do all the things any other publicly traded company does. But our job is to empower our partners and make them proud to work for our brand." (Starbucks refers to its employees as partners because, as its website says, "we are all partners in shared success.")

Johnson continued to talk about the healthcare benefits and college tuition reimbursement the company offers to its employees. "Anything we do that reduces attrition in our stores is good for business," he said. He pointed out that practices like hiring veterans both provides a service to those who have served the country, and ensures the company is bringing on strong workers. "It's a beautiful thing," he said.

Formerly the CEO of Juniper Networks and a Starbucks board member for nine years, Johnson took over for long-time exec Howard Schultz in April. Johnson spoke Thursday about needing to innovate to keep up in the shrinking retail space, ensuring that customers have a great in-store experience and plenty of options. The company is focusing more on its digital side, which currently accounts for more than a third of the company's sales. On the product side, it recently rolled out products like flavored nitro cold brew and is testing a whiskey barrel-aged green coffee in several locations.

Pulling everything together, Johnson pointed to a good cause that will likely benefit Starbucks in the long-term. The company is in the process of donating 100 million specially engineered, rust resistant coffee trees to farmers around the world. Coffee rust is a fungus, prevalent in Central and South America, that can damage or kill coffee trees. Starbucks developed the rest-resistant hybrids at its giant farm in Costa Rica.

The initiative, of course, helps the company as well, since more healthy coffee trees means higher supply and lower prices for coffee beans.

The CEO said projects like this are what the company needs to strive for. "With any company, the larger you get, the harder it is to retain agility," he said. "We have to make sure we keep driving innovation."

Published on: Oct 27, 2017