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Chairman on Starbucks Incident: 'We Did Everything We Could to Demonstrate Contrition'

howard schultz at shareholders meeting

WASHINGTON – Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said the world is “questioning the moral leadership of America” and he urged the public to reject nationalism.

“We are living at a very unusual time and I don't think it would be an overstatement, especially this week, to say that the country is facing a real crucible,” Schultz said after accepting the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Business Leadership Award on Thursday evening. “And I think you can broaden that and kind of ask the rhetorical question about the crucible of leadership.”

Schultz recalled visiting Auschwitz for the first time and finding a stone in the sand, which he laid on the podium.

“I've had that rock on my desk to constantly remind me not only to never forget, but in an age of uncertainty, especially the last couple of years, to remind me of the best of America. Now, it's been 75 years since the end of World War II and I think many today, unfortunately, at home and many around the world – and I travel a great deal – are questioning the moral leadership of America, and the ideals of America and what this rock not once, but still, represents,” Schultz said. “I say straight away that my company and what we do at Starbucks is not a proxy for the country or leading the country, but our values and guiding principles, I think, are steeped in American values.”

Schultz named some of the benefits Starbucks employees have received over the years.

“The aspiration was to build a different kind of company, a company that would achieve the balance between profit and conscience, a company that would demonstrate that not every decision is an economic one, a company that would demonstrate success is best when it's shared,” he said.

“And do things that were unheard of – ownership for every employee, comprehensive health insurance over 20 years before the Affordable Care Act, free college tuition for every employee. All of these things steeped not in marketing or PR but steeped in the understanding that we have to create opportunity for everyone,” he added.