Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has attracted a large measure of notice from the blogosphere following a shareholder meeting this past Wednesday, where he inadvertently waded into political waters by rebuking an opponent of same sex marriage.
The incident occurred when Starbucks shareholder Tom Strobhar of the Corporate Morality Action Center, an anti-gay corporate pressure group, raised the issue of Starbucks having been recently boycotted by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). This, Strobhar suggested, had lost the company money and suggested they might want to backtrack on the issue.
“In the first full quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings, shall we say politely, were a bit disappointing,” Strobhar said.
Schultz could have responded to this indictment with platitudes, or simply addressed it in the least offensive way possible. This, however, he did not do. Rather, he launched into a full-throated defense of the company’s pro-gay stance.
“Not every decision is an economic decision,” Schultz replied. “Despite the fact that you recite statistics that are narrow in time, we did provide a 38% shareholder return over the last year. I don’t know how many things you invest in, but I would suspect not many things, companies, products, investments have returned 38% over the last 12 months. Having said that, it is not an economic decision to me. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. We employ over 200,000 people in this company, and we want to embrace diversity. Of all kinds.”
The audience broke into applause. Schultz, however, wasn’t finished.
“If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country,” he said. “You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”
Watch Schultz’s viral response below, via the Puget Sound Business Journal: