From Adman to Barista

Starbucks, now the world’s largest coffeehouse company, opened its first store in Seattle, Washington, on this day in 1971. Recent books have told the Starbucks success story as a sociological phenomenon (Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks, by Bryant Simon), and as a better-business seminar (Leading the Starbucks Way: 5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customers, Your Products and Your People, by Joseph Michelli). Michael Gates Gill’s How Starbucks Saved My Life is inspirational on a more personal level, though a Cinderella story in reverse.

The life-saving lesson begins by accident, Gill so wrapped up in his “cocoon of self-pity and nostalgia about lost fortune and family” that he does not realize he has taken a chair in a Manhattan Starbucks that is holding a “Hiring Open House”:

“A job,” the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn’t heard her. “Would you like one?”

Was I that transparent? Despite my pin-striped Brooks Brothers suit and Master of the Universe manner — I had my cell phone resting on top of my expensive leather T. Anthony briefcase as if expecting an important call — could she see that I was really one of life’s losers? Did I, a former creative director of J. Walter Thompson Company, the largest advertising agency in the world, want a job at Starbucks?!

For one of the few times in my life, I could not think of a polite lie or any answer but the truth.

“Yes,” I said without thinking, “I would like a job.”

In an Afterword written for the most recent edition of his bestseller, Gill summarizes “the three L’s” behind his personal Starbucks success story — “leap with faith,” “look upon others with respect,” and “listen to your heart.” The help-list expands in Gill’s follow-up book, How to Save Your Own Life: 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at