The B&N Podcast: Howard Schultz on From the Ground Up

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

The year was 1983, and the director of marketing for a Seattle-based coffee roasting company was visiting Milan, Italy for the first time. It was there that Brooklyn-born entrepreneur Howard Schultz says he fell in love with the bold flavors of espresso and caffe latte, and the lively, theatrical culture of Italian cafes. That journey became the inspiration behind the eventual transformation of Starbucks, as helmed by Schultz, into a multibillion dollar company with stores worldwide – and the addition to the American vocabulary of the Italian words “grande” and “venti.” Schultz’s new book From the Ground Up weaves that story among others that go back to his rough-and-tumble youth in Brooklyn housing projects, his fraught relationship with his father and his mother’s own special role in setting him on the path to becoming one of the most influential figures in American business. But Schultz is also using his book and accompanying book tour to advocate his view of our political situation, and to explore the possibility of his own bid for the presidency. We sat down with Howard Schultz for a talk on location, just before his recent event at the flagship Barnes and Noble store in Union Square.

From the longtime CEO and chairman of Starbucks, a bold, dramatic work about the new responsibilities that leaders, businesses, and citizens share in American society today—as viewed through the intimate lens of one man’s life and work.

What do we owe one another? How do we channel our drive, ingenuity, even our pain, into something more meaningful than individual success? And what is our duty in the places where we live, work, and play?

These questions are at the heart of the American journey. They are also ones that Howard Schultz has grappled with personally since growing up in the Brooklyn housing projects and while building Starbucks from eleven stores into one of the world’s most iconic brands.

In From the Ground Up, Schultz looks for answers in two interwoven narratives. One story shows how his conflicted boyhood—including experiences he has never before revealed—motivated Schultz to become the first in his family to graduate from college, then to build the kind of company his father, a working-class laborer, never had a chance to work for: a business that tries to balance profit and human dignity.

A parallel story offers a behind-the-scenes look at Schultz’s unconventional efforts to challenge old notions about the role of business in society. From health insurance and free college tuition for part-time baristas to controversial initiatives about race and refugees, Schultz and his team tackled societal issues with the same creativity and rigor they applied to changing how the world consumes coffee.

Throughout the book, Schultz introduces a cross-section of Americans transforming common struggles into shared successes. In these pages, lost youth find first jobs, aspiring college students overcome the yoke of debt, post-9/11 warriors replace lost limbs with indomitable spirit, former coal miners and opioid addicts pave fresh paths, entrepreneurs jump-start dreams, and better angels emerge from all corners of the country.

From the Ground Up is part candid memoir, part uplifting blueprint of mutual responsibility, and part proof that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. At its heart, it’s an optimistic, inspiring account of what happens when we stand up, speak out, and come together for purposes bigger than ourselves. Here is a new vision of what can be when we try our best to lead lives through the lens of humanity.

EXCLUSIVE FOR BARNES & NOBLE READERS: A Conversation Between Two Iconic American Entrepreneurs—Howard Schultz and Barnes & Noble founder Len Riggio—about First Jobs, the Third Place, and the Making of America.

See all books by Howard Schultz.

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