Howard Behar – Hero of Conscious Capitalism

Former President of Starbucks International Howard Behar is one of the best examples of a conscious capitalist. He firmly believes that companies are a force for economic and social good and led Starbucks in that spirit, emphasizing that “It’s not about the coffee.” Listing Conscious Capitalism among the list of resources that people should visit on his own website, Behar spends his time teaching others about how seeking to help and serve others is not just the best way to run a business, but is the point of running one.

Behar led the North American business of Starbucks before becoming the first president of Starbucks International in 1996, where he opened its first international store in Tokyo and grew across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, retiring from the board when Starbucks had grown to 15,000 stores worldwide. He accomplished this through his higher people-oriented vision and by being one of the best known servant-leaders. In fact, he is a board member emeritus of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership and he tries to impress upon others the fundamental truth that “how you treat your people is how they’ll treat your customers.”

Among the things that Behar did as President was to hold open improvement dialogues with workers, where they could ask any question they wanted. He also sought their input on the things that partners (“employees”) interacted with the most, such as making sure that those who used the actual equipment would have a say in that equipment that was purchased. In addition, Behar was part of the team that decided health care, sick leave, decent pay, and other benefits would be included for all Starbucks partners. When questioned about it he said that businesses had to take a stand for what was right and that, “There’s no conflict between treating your people with respect and dignity and making a profit. That’s fiction.”

By serving others and treating them right, Behar helped shape Starbucks’ conscious culture into one that was intentional, purposeful, and self-reflective. To this day he still cares about Starbucks, offering praise and critics, and also cleaning up the occasional spills or mess he finds in stores when he visits them for coffee. He may not work at Starbucks anymore but he still knows that leading by example is the right mindset for a conscious capitalist and that it helps maintain a positive culture of ownership of the organization. True to himself and his belief in his life’s work of teaching others to lead, he once said that “[Organizations] need to be true to their values. It’s staying true to your values and being honest with yourself creates healthy organizations.”