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What Starbucks’ CEO Did Right During a PR Crisis

The Starbucks Philadelphia incident calls for lessons every business leader should know

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BY Pauline Mendoza - 20 Apr 2018

starbucks ceo

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Racial profiling is wrong — full stop.

If you’re just catching up with the recent racial profiling issue involving Starbucks, here’s what happened: Two black men entered a Starbucks store in Philadelphia and asked to use the restroom. They were denied access because they haven’t ordered anything. A Starbucks employee (who no longer works for the store as of this writing) asked them to leave, but they refused because they were still waiting for someone. Soon, police officers came and arrested them. Upon reviewing the case, the prosecutor’s office admitted that no crime was committed.

Not long after, the incident went viral. As the issue spread from the streets to phone screens, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson did what every leader should do when facing a crisis. Here are three things he did right:

1. Apologized

It’s not enough for Johnson to post a public apology on Twitter and a video on their website (which he did immediately). He personally met the two men involved in the incident to offer a face-to-face apology.

In the video, Johnsons says, “This is not who we are, and it's not who we're going to be. We are going to learn from this and we will be better for it.”

2. Owned up to the problem

"Now there's been some calls for us to take action on the store manager. I believe that blame is misplaced. In fact, I think the focus of fixing this: I own it,” says Johnson.

Notably, Johnson didn’t put the blame squarely on just one employee. He understands that this kind of situation calls for a broader look at things.

“This is a management issue, and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome," he says.

3. Acted immediately

"Now, today I've been on the phone — with the mayor, with the police commissioner, and other leaders in the community. I'm looking forward to spending the next two days meeting and visiting with them personally," Johnson says.

In addition, it was announced that Starbucks will close 8,000 stores for racial-bias education on May 29 for nearly 175,000 employees.


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