Yesterday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson again apologized profusely on behalf of his company for an event that has rocked the nation. Aside from the latest Instagram-ready Crystal Ball or Unicorn Frappuccino, coffee giant Starbucks hasn't been in the news much lately. That is, until two black men -- real estate brokers waiting to meet a business colleague in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week -- were unceremoniously arrested and held by police for more than six hours.
Well, that's the question everyone wants the answer to.
While I have no reason to believe that Starbucks as a corporation considers any of its customers less worthy than any others, the problem is that individual employees can (and often do) act in ways that are contrary to the values of the company for which they work. Usually, this misalignment between employees and employer isn't publicly visible and is corrected in fairly short order -- either the employee aligns with the company's values, or he or she is let go.
But every once in a while, employees do something so public and so egregious that it serves as a lightning rod for people to heap all sorts of scorn on the company that employs them.
Such was the case when a manager at that Philadelphia Starbucks called 911 last Thursday afternoon to report a disturbance. According to media reports, staff members at the Starbucks said that two men refused to leave the store after asking to use the restroom but not first placing an order.
There has been plenty of outrage ever since, and Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson appeared on "Good Morning America" Monday morning to apologize for the actions of its manager and to explain what the company would do to prevent such an event from every happening again. Speaking about both the Philadelphia store manager and the overall Starbucks culture, Johnson said, "My responsibility is to look not only to that individual but look more broadly at the circumstances that set that up just to ensure that never happens again."
@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn't ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it's never happened to us when we do the same thing. pic.twitter.com/0U4Pzs55Ci-- Melissa DePino (@missydepino) April 12, 2018
And what will Starbucks do to prevent another such occurrence?
According to Johnson, Starbucks will provide more training to store managers around company guidelines and what he termed "unconscious bias." Hopefully the training will also cover conscious bias on the part of managers and other Starbucks employees.
Will this training solve Starbucks' current conundrum? Probably not in the short term. Like the ongoing negative PR United Airlines continues to suffers from the incident more than a year ago when that guy was knocked out and dragged off his flight, Starbucks is likely to suffer negative PR for quite some time. But I believe that in the long run, the company will get past this tragic incident and get back to the business of selling coffee.
At least I hope so.