Howard Schultz: Exemplar of Ethical Public Communication

The CEO of Starbucks has earned a reputation for communicating enlightened corporate responsibility in several ways. Most recently he has championed a movement to recognize and reward America’s veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Together with the Washington Post senior correspondent and associate editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Schultz just published the book For Love of Country, with the long descriptive sub-title: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us about
Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice
. Chadrasekaran is well-positioned to work with Schultz on this book. He has reported directly on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His best-known work is probably Imperial Life in the Emerald City (about life inside the “green line” in Baghdad) and the most recent, Little War: The War within the War for Afghanistan.

The book provides context for Schultz’s recent pledge that Starbucks will hire at least 10,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years. In a related endeavor, Starbucks and HBO presented “The Concert for Valor” on Veterans Day of 2014 with talent including Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood, Jamie Foxx, Eminem, and guest appearances by Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Steven Spielberg. The purpose of the concert, in addition to honoring veterans, was to publicize service organizations intended to assist in the reemployment, reintegration, and health and wellness of returning American veterans. The Schultz Family Foundation, under the leadership of Schultz and his wife, Sheri, has also committed $30 million to aid veterans in their transition to civilian life.

The book, For Love of Country, elucidates a situation troubling to Schultz and Chandrasekaran: members of a professionalized military are somewhat isolated from the broad American public in a way uncharacteristic of most former wars in American history. Returning veterans are therefore almost invisible in many circumstances. After World War II or Vietnam, the draft had ensured that a broad spectrum of American families and communities had some direct relationship with returned soldiers, sailors, marines, and air force personnel. The all-volunteer force, however, is not as widely representative. Schultz and Chandrasekaran are concerned that consequently there is less understanding or even less connection with the returnees from these recent battlefields.

For Love of Country attempts to personalize the lives and sacrifices of these veterans by highlighting, in the first part, the amazing heroism of several individuals and in the second part, the continued contributions of other returning warriors to their communities. For example, the first highlighted case is that of Bill Krissoff, who, after the loss of his son killed in Iraq in 2006, volunteers and becomes the oldest serving serviceman in that war theater at age 62 (as a marine surgeon). The first part of the book also details the amazing actions of others, such as Kellie McCoy, a West Point graduate and combat engineer in Iraq; and the “last line of defense,” the story of two marines who stayed at their post firing at a bomb-laden truck roaring toward them at the entrance to an American base, giving their lives to save those of their fellow-soldiers.

The second part of the book illustrates the continuing service to country on the part of returning veterans after their service: “What our veterans can teach us about citizenship.” One becomes an unusually effective teacher in an inner-city Chicago high school. Others develop the highly effective volunteer team known as “Team Rubicon,” or “Nice Guys of San Diego.” Groups such as these were especially noteworthy for help after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. And, there was Peter Chiarelli, who noted the epidemic of suicides among returnees from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The point is that most Americans may not be aware of the high level of service and community involvement many returning veterans continue as a follow-up to the dedication shown in their military service.

James Fallows in the January 2015 edition of the Atlantic Monthly makes many of the points developed by Schultz and Chandrasekaran. Looking at institutional issues rather than those of individual service and heroism, he presents a more worried look at the overall state of the American military, while starting from much the same point as For Love of Country. In his article, “The Tragic Decline of the American Military,” Fallows details many of the perhaps unanticipated consequences of an all-volunteer force, or the suspension of the selective service system. Fallows discusses what he calls the disinterested way that Americans now applaud or show reverence for returning military but do not engage or think about what they are doing. “This reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military—we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them—has become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm.” When there was a military draft, a wider swath of the public was liable to military service than is the case today.

Schultz appears to hope that through his corporate pledge to hire 10,000 veterans or spouses, concerts to rally support for the returning troops, his family foundation support for veterans, and his well-publicized book that he can enhance our engagement with the men and women who have served so well and sacrificed so much. The effort is no doubt a good example of public argumentation made in an ethical and responsible way. This effort is certainly consistent with Schultz’s record in the arena of public advocacy. He was awarded the Business Enterprise Trust Award for courage, integrity and social vision in business; the International Humanitarian Award from CARE (supporting people in coffee-producing countries); a national award from AIDS Action for efforts in the battle against AIDS. Also over the last year, he made noteworthy and well-publicized statements in regard to guns in the Starbucks stores and the problems of government gridlock in Washington. The latest effort in advocacy for veterans continues a definite pattern of high-level public argumentation.

William W. Neher
Bill Neher

Bill Neher is professor emeritus of communication studies at Butler University, where he taught for 42 years. Over those years he has served as Dean of the University College, Director of the Honors Program, Head of the Department of Communication Studies, the Chair of the faculty governance, and most recently as the first Dean (Interim) for the new College of Communication begun in June 2010. He is the author of several books dealing with organizational and professional communication, ethics, and African studies, plus several public speaking and communication text books.


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