It's a rare case when a Fortune 500 CEO gets ousted, and then the guy wearing the boot divvies out praise. But this is what happened after Howard Schultz fired Jim Donald as CEO of Starbucks (SBUX) and replaced him with himself. "You cannot meet a kinder human being," says Schultz about Donald in his book, Onward, about Starbucks' turnaround. "A natural talent for building relationships at every level of an organization"--plus "heart, conscience, and emotional intelligence," according to Schultz--made Donald a popular chief inside Starbucks, even as sales flagged and investors wanted change.
Turns out, Schultz was wise to reclaim Starbucks' reins in 2008 (Fortune named him 2011 Businessperson of the Year), but Donald, whom I've kept in touch with, seemed destined for another challenge. After four years below the radar--teaching, consulting, heading a Pacific Northwest grocery chain, Haggen--he was just named CEO of Extended Stay Hotels, a $1 billion-a-year, 9,100-employee chain that emerged from bankruptcy in 2010. The company is now owned by private equity firms Centerbridge Partners, Paulson & Co. and Blackstone Group (BX).
Hotels represent new territory for Donald, whose career has been in food retailing. (Hired by Sam Walton, he once spearheaded Wal-Mart's (WMT) early foray into superstores.) Now Donald is in stretch mode. Last month, as he was weighing various job options, he told me that he was testing his creative muscle by writing a story a day. He's written 13,000 words so far in 2012, he reports; most are about leading with love. "People want to know how they're doing," he says, summing up his philosophy. "If you let them know, then they might do more."
Donald believes that 99% of people "try to do the right thing. Recognize them for it." Here's his story about an encounter at Charlotte International Airport one January day when he was interviewing at Extended Stay's headquarters--now his corporate home.
Buy Some Love by Jim Donald, CEO, Extended Stay Hotels
Go ahead. Buy some love and make someone's day. It might even make your own day...
"Try the brownie brittle," Taquana told me as I checked out of Hudson News with the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
"No thanks," I replied.
"You'll like it," she repeated. Giving in, I mumbled as I crunched, "Not bad. But I need to wash it down with some Bojangles fried chicken." Coincidentally, a Bojangles was across the terminal hallway.
"Take all of us with you," Taquana replied.
"Let's go. Lock this place down," I yelled to all six of the Hudson News employees (knowing it would not/could not happen).
As I walked across the hallway, I looked back at the excitement that I stirred up and got in line to place my order for a two-piece dinner--a wing and a breast.
All of a sudden, my conscience popped up on my right shoulder: "What the ???" she said to me. "All your working life, you tell people to 'celebrate the little things that people do to try and make a difference.' Taquana, probably in her first retail gig, went out of her way to sell you brownie brittle, and you not only stiffed her, you teased her as well."
Brushing Ms. Conscience off my shoulder, I said to myself, 'I don't even work here...leave me alone." As I thought about another reason to tell my conscience off, I was rudely interrupted by the cashier asking me, quite impatiently, "Your order, sir?"
"A two-piece dinner," I said, hesitating. "And a 12-piece box with biscuits, please," I added.
Walking back into Hudson News, I sang out loud (and annoyed a few customers along the way): "Show me some love 'cause I got the Chicken!" What happened next is something I didn't expect--and not only made my day but also reinforced the power of celebrating the little things that people do: Suddenly, I was surrounded by six women giving me my first group hug...15 seconds, 20 seconds 25 seconds...Now the customers were really getting upset.
As I broke free, said goodbye, and headed to Gate B9, airport security asked me if I was the one causing trouble. "Yeah," I replied. "Just ask my girls."
And as I sat down at the gate to eat my chicken, Taquana walked over and introduced her supervisor, who said, "Thanks." I said, "You should be thanking Taquana. She is making some things happen at your store!"
Donald looked for Taquana twice this past week--including today at 5:45 a.m. when he landed on the red-eye from Seattle. "Tell Taquana I'm in town," he told the crew at Hudson News.
Addendum: The Starbucks Via Taste Challenge kicks off Friday and runs through Monday in Starbucks stores across the U.S. and Canada. But I got a head start Tuesday morning, as I noted in the post below: I disagree with CEO Howard Schultz's "guarantee" that you won't be able to tell the difference between Starbucks' drip and its new instant (or "ready brew," as he calls it). Starbucks Bold drip handily MOREPatricia Sellers - Sep 29, 2009 6:34 PM ET
I'm an optimist. Always have been. So take with a grain of salt--or sugar, perhaps--these signs of hope across the board:
1. Maybe print isn't dead. My new Kindle 2 makes me think that even though we may not be reading magazines and newspapers on paper a decade or two from now, long-form stories and beautiful page design can endure. (My Monday Postcard, "Amazon: Thinking beyond the Kindle," stirred debate about MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 3, 2009 1:45 PM ET
by Jim Donald, former CEO of Starbucks and Pathmark
"Good morning, general store managers, assistant store managers, VPs and all 26,000 employees…Jim here…
It's Wednesday morning and the merchandising message today is--and you are not going to believe it-- but I am telling you that it is OK to steal."
It was 5:30 a.m., and I was on the phone, in my kitchen, sending out my daily voicemail. As I paused for MOREPatricia Sellers - Apr 1, 2009 1:02 PM ET
Who are you? It's more important than ever to know the answer to this question.
Think about it - When you're on shaky ground (aren't we all these days?), when your bosses and direct reports question your moves (admit it, they do), and when you're rethinking your life or career (you'd better be, or you're a fool), you need one core competency: Know thyself.
A primer in this regard: a book that I MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 27, 2009 12:54 PM ET
David Neeleman, the founder and former CEO of JetBlue (JBLU), launched his fourth low-cost airline Monday. This one is in Brazil. It's called Azul, which means "blue" in Portugese. It's a lot like JetBlue: TVs at every seat-back, leather seats, extra leg room, nonstop flights between cities that previously lacked nonstop service.
Who knows if Azul will take off, but Brazil's economy is growing faster than most (6.8% in the third MOREPatricia Sellers - Dec 16, 2008 3:23 PM ET
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz needs less optimism and a stronger dose of reality in his brew.
Monday's fourth-quarter earnings report -- net income down 97% to $5.4 million on revenues of $2.5 billion, which were up 3% -- missed expectations. Same-store sales, down 8% in the United States and 7% globally, were worse than Wall Street predicted. Moreover, $170 million in restructuring costs to close 600 U.S. stores, as detailed by management MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 11, 2008 12:12 PM ET
I waited 45 minutes to vote this morning. A breeze, I guess, compared to those people standing in line for hours. At 8 a.m., I walked into my Starbucks on Manhattan's Upper West Side for a free tall brewed coffee -- the retailer's Election Day promotion -- and walked straight to the counter. No line. The store filled 20 minutes later. Obviously, Americans are running about one hour late today. MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 4, 2008 1:55 PM ET
Seeing Starbucks (SBUX), once America's model retailer, post its first-ever quarterly loss, you realize how dire the retail category is these days. Just about everybody except the low-price players like McDonald's (MCD), Wal-Mart (WMT) and TJX (TJX) are losing.
But beyond being a victim of the harsh economy, Starbucks made real mistakes. It dramatically over-expanded. And when Howard Schultz, who built the company from a tiny Seattle chain, fired CEO Jim MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 31, 2008 2:42 PM ET
The news that Starbucks (SBUX) will close 600 stores and lay off as many as 12,000 employees is not only the news that Wall Street was waiting for. It is inevitable. One thing I've learned from my 24 years following retailers for Fortune is this: Every retailer that expands across the U.S. hits the wall on growth eventually. And every retail entrepreneur, no matter how talented, is eventually exposed as MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 2, 2008 12:35 PM ET
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