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Originally published January 14, 2013 at 10:30 AM | Page modified January 14, 2013 at 10:45 AM

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Engage in political issues, Starbucks CEO tells retailers

Howard Schultz speaks to retailer convention, calling for more “authentic leadership” in the nation.

Seattle Times business reporter

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NEW YORK — Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz urged retailers Monday to jump into the political fray and help bring an end to gridlock in Congress.

Schultz, in an impassioned speech at the National Retail Federation’s 102nd annual convention in Manhattan, said political “dysfunction” poses the biggest threat to businesses.

Schultz did not prescribe any specific policy changes but instead spoke broadly about the need for what he called authentic leadership.

After a holiday sales season rife with uncertainty over the fiscal cliff, retailers can expect more of the same as Congress and the White House turn their attention to the federal budget deficit, he said.

“The greatest threat to our businesses is the fracturing of the middle class,” Schultz said. “We’re all walking around silently, asleep, as if everything was OK. There is something seriously wrong.”

Schultz, who received warm applause at the end of his 10-minute speech, pointed out that Starbucks recently asked employees to write the words “come together” on coffee cups in the D.C. Area.

He was part of a panel discussion on socially conscious leadership with the CEOs of The Container Store and Whole Foods.

The NRF conference, which began Sunday and continues through Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, has about 27,000 people in attendance, including a large international contingency.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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