Thursday, June 12, 2008

'There goes the free Starbucks'

The worst part about getting fired from the CEO’s job at Starbucks is having to tell your mother, according to Jim Donald, who found that out for himself in January. Four months later, he was willing to talk about that day with a Fortune magazine editor, who convinced him to join two other victims of high-profile sackings for a joint soul baring of what they’d learned.

But it was far from a pity party. “This is what happens in the big leagues,” Donald remarked during the four-party Q&A with Fortune’s Patricia Sellers. He and his fellow boardroom casualties—JetBlue founder David Neeleman and former Motorola CEO Ed Zander—offered a dry-eyed assessment of why they were deposed.

Donald, for instance, said he should’ve pushed for faster international development. “The international markets don’t have as quick returns as the U.S.,” h said. “But if I’d known the U.S. economy was going to crash, I would have invested earlier.” His replacement as CEO, board chairman and former head bean Howard Schultz, has pledged to accelerate Starbucks’ development overseas while shutting weak U.S. outlets.

It was Schultz, Donald said, who actually wielded the axe, and he did it after giving his one-time protégé a hug. “It was on a Sunday evening, at Howard’s house,” Donald told Sellers and his fellow topple-ees. A greeting was followed by an embrace, then the news that Starbucks’ board had decided to make a change. Donald made it sound as if he didn’t have time to put his latte down.

The 54-year old said he headed home, where his wife expressed surprise that he’d was back already. “Laura said, ‘Wow, that was a quick meeting. Did you lose your job?’ I said, ‘As a matter of fact, I did.’”

The one-time head of Wal-Mart’s grocery operations said the most painful part of the experience was calling his mother the next day. Indeed, he said, that experience “probably” made it “the toughest day I’d ever faced, ever. Ever, ever, ever!” But, he indicated, she took it well.

Donald expressed no resentment about what happened to him. Nor did he speak of Schultz in anything but a neutral tone. Sellers asked Donald if he’d ever work again for a company’s founder, as he did at Schultz (a nit-picking point: Schultz founded Starbucks Corp., but not the Starbucks brand).

“Founders have a way of being engaged in the business, being emotionally connected to that brand or to that product,” he responded. “So would I work for a founder? Yes, absolutely.”


  1. "The worst part about getting fired from the CEO’s job at Starbucks is having to tell your mother, according to Jim Donald,"
    Poor baby, of course its the worst part when you're getting a multi million parachute/exit package unlike the hourly who needs to tell his spouse that hes not sure how they are going to pay the rent.

    Sincerely, Steakman

  2. Jim's Donald's demise was not being able to think like the founder. Although Donald was hand picked and groomed by Schultz, he probably lacked that "killer instinct" that so many entrepreneurs just have.