Remarkable story about Starbucks today in the Wall Street Journal regarding its initial, tentative forays into the murky world of Washington lobbying. (Subscription required, so no link. Sorry.) It’s worth seeking out because it’s a wonderfully detailed story of a company trying to preserve its values while at the same time respecting the mores of how things are done in someone else’s world.
The overall tenor of the story is that Starbucks is just one of a number of values-minded companies that came of age in the 1990s and now that they’re reaching corporate maturity, they now have to play some of the games that its leaders once eschewed as “the old way of doing business.” Because it’s clear that no one is going to confuse Bill Frist as a Fast Company kind of guy anytime soon, people like Howard Schultz and others who already are trying to balance growing businesses with corporate ethics now have something else to worry about.
If you read the story, you can literally feel Howard Schultz agonizing over how to proceed. He’s only given money to Democratic candidates, but that’s not going to get him very far in Republican DC today. He doesn’t want to go with his hand out every time, but that’s so what Washington insiders are used to, they don’t know how to react to anything else when he presents an alternative.
So what does Schultz and those like him do moving forward? It’s an open question with no right answer. These are companies and leaders that find themselves playing on a global stage that it previously hadn’t prepared for. But government makes stodgy companies look progressive by comparison and it can’t be toppled. Chalk it up to being another complexity that comes with corporations living with values and that tests and strains those values with each leap into Asia or a Senator’s office.