How 'Mr. Starbucks' Became Mr. Tether

Stanley Hainsworth, the Coffee Chain's Ex-Creative, on Starting His Own Agency, Brand Building and Kentucky Accents

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CHICAGO ( -- He put his stamp on nearly every piece of creative at Starbucks; he devised the "brand book" that defines the Lego image; and he helped push Nike into entertainment. And, if nothing else, he should be famous for the craziest hairstyle in marketing. So how is it that beyond a close circle, so few people know the name Stanley Hainsworth?
It's not just the hair: Stanley Hainsworth, who once persuaded fearless subordinates at a marketing retreat to shave his head, is described by a former colleague as 'creativity in the gestalt.'
It's not just the hair: Stanley Hainsworth, who once persuaded fearless subordinates at a marketing retreat to shave his head, is described by a former colleague as 'creativity in the gestalt.' Credit: Koshtra Tolle

"Your identity is who you work for. That's how it should be when you're internal," said Mr. Hainsworth, who left Starbucks as VP-global creative earlier this month to start his own agency. "It's not about being the star. It's about you building the brand, and I've been careful to find that balance between the brand and myself."

Now that Mr. Hainsworth, 50, is trying to get some recognition for Tether, his branding, advertising and product-design shop in Seattle, he jokes, "I started introducing myself as Stanley Starbucks."

The decision to start his own company happened one day while he was walking to a meeting at the coffee chain. "I had one person on each shoulder and I was saying, 'OK, do this, do that,' and I realized how much I loved that; I loved working on multiple projects with people. And then I had this realization: 'Hey, you're pretty good at this,'" he said.

Filling in gaps
His philosophy is to address gaps in brand, communication and design, thus the name Tether. To create a gallery feel to the office, he plans to sell art, music and hand-picked objects, as well as things he and his team have designed.

"Stanley gets the brand, the customer and the channels," said Gerry Lopez, president-global consumer products group at Starbucks, who described him as a "unique talent," unlike anyone Mr. Lopez has seen in a 23-year career at marketers including Procter & Gamble, Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay. "He creates and understands great creative and what it takes to make and deliver results. That balance of art and keen eye on results is one of a kind."

Mr. Hainsworth wouldn't comment on what clients are already on the roster but said his friends and former employers "know I'm available."

It's a heck of a Rolodex.

Mr. Hainsworth began as a trained actor (he appeared with George Clooney in a 1993 made-for-TV movie) and fell into marketing when he became a father in his early 30s. "That's when acting became a hobby," he said. He and his wife, Sherri, are celebrating their 25-year anniversary this month and are the parents of five children, ages 6 to 22.

Growing up Nike
After adopting his oldest child, he hooked up with some friends at Nike who offered him a job as a copywriter. Mr. Hainsworth now describes Nike as his "hometown" and his time there as his "education." He eventually became a creative director at the athletic-apparel giant and worked on the brand's drive into entertainment, including athlete-driven books and kids' TV programs. He also hosted "NikeTV," an internal program broadcast to all 10,000 employees who all got to know Mr. Hainsworth by name.

Andrew Black, president of Virgin Mobile Canada, was director-new business at Nike during that time and later played a role in bringing Mr. Hainsworth to Lego. Mr. Black recalls traveling with him to New York and meeting with publishers about potential books on stars such as Lance Armstrong, Mia Hamm and Tiger Woods.

"There's no better feeling than going in with him," said Mr. Black. "You just leave the floor to Stanley. Once we were finished, the publishers in New York were lined up to work with Stanley."

Mr. Black also pitched Nickelodeon a program about a retired referee who talked about sports with kids when they stopped by his house after school. Mr. Hainsworth had designed the ref's house down to bleacher seats in the living room. He also played the ref in the trailer.

"Stanley as an actor, with his hair, was absolutely hilarious," Mr. Black said. "It was one of the coolest things." While Nickelodeon was interested in the program, Mr. Black said, Nike decided against pursuing it.

'Classic Stanley'
Dave Larson, VP-marketing at Brooks Running, recalled Mr. Hainsworth's idea to launch a fashionable running shoe at a New York art gallery in the Meatpacking District. "It was brilliant in that the design world took note of an athletic shoe in a completely different environment," he said. "Classic Stanley!"

To hear Mr. Hainsworth tell it, the key to creativity is soul-searching. When he joined Lego in Denmark in 1991, the company was having trouble with its brand, and his first order of business was to create a brand book.

"[I look] first of all for who we are. Who is that brand and what is the soul of that brand? After that, what do we look like, what is our face to the consumer?" he said. "So that's what I did at Lego, created that brand book: This is that we do, this is who we are. ...It all comes back to the core -- the emotional style guide."

With that information in place, Mr. Hainsworth set about redesigning the product packaging, marketing materials and website, and developed the look for the company's retail locations. Building on his experience at Nike, the creative director led Lego into various entertainment properties, including TV, video games, movies, and comic books.

Creative vision
He wasn't above the occasional stunt to get his team engaged.

Christian Barnett, executive director-strategic planning at Y&R's BrandBuzz, recalled a Lego marketing retreat when his friend got things going by sitting in a chair on stage with a pair of clippers. With hundreds of subordinates assembled, Mr. Hainsworth asked for volunteers to shave off chunks of his hair. When they finished, he was bald.

"Stanley joined the Lego company at a tumultuous time in the company's history," said Keith Malone, creative director at Lego. "Creatively we had grown complacent in many ways, and senior management knew it was time to shake things up.

"Stanley challenged everything, especially the company's long-held views on packaging and retail expression."

After three years at Lego, Mr. Hainsworth was getting headhunter calls. He chose to go to Starbucks in part because of CEO Howard Schultz and his vision of Starbucks as a "third place."

"I was intrigued by the possibility using the ubiquity of Starbucks -- there are Starbucks on every corner, but what's good about that?" he said. "How can you make that an integral part of that community? When you walk into a Starbucks, there's a husband and wife having a conversation, a young couple flirting, maybe a book reading club over there -- this is kind of a snapshot of the community."

During his four-year tenure at Starbucks, Mr. Hainsworth managed as many as 120 people, before budget cuts this year trimmed the staff to 100. He designed the company's brand book and had some form of input on nearly every creative piece that went out. To keep things consistent, he established a system of "five creative filters" that everything ran through.

"I took everyone through those as they were inboarded, and they were able to understand what the brand was about," he said. "The goal is by the end of whatever, you put all the work on the wall and no one knows where it came from."

His last project was bringing back the original 1971 Starbucks logo to dovetail with the Pike Place Roast launch and the accompanying back-to-roots theme.

'Constant buzz'
He created a "constant buzz of ideas at Starbucks," said Ethos Water co-founder Jonathan Greenblatt. "I know that his creative vision animated the business in many ways, driving the visual execution of the brand and helping to shape the very concept of Starbucks as the 'third place' for millions of customers," he said. "The company owes him a large debt of gratitude, and it should be exciting to watch as he brings a similar degree of energy and passion to his new firm."
Re-styling Starbucks: Mr. Hainsworth put his stamp on everything in his four-year tenure, including placing artwork by Lane Twitchell on the coffee packages.
Re-styling Starbucks: Mr. Hainsworth put his stamp on everything in his four-year tenure, including placing artwork by Lane Twitchell on the coffee packages.

Mr. Hainsworth grew up in a small Western Kentucky town but left in 1975 to study acting at Brigham Young University. He hired a dialect coach after his first audition for a Shakespearean play. (The directors, he recalls, were visibly stifling laughs at his drawl.) With no remaining traces of a Southern accent, he maintains that a real twang is the closest thing there is to a classic 16-century Shakespearean dialect.

He later worked as an actor in New York and Los Angeles, but two of his two biggest commercial roles oddly had a Kentucky connection. Mr. Hainsworth played a homeless man in the 1993 made-for-TV movie "Without Warning: Terror in the Towers," about the first attack on the World Trade Center, co-starring fellow Kentuckian Mr. Clooney. He also landed the role of "Dirtman" in 1991's "My Own Private Idaho."

Mr. Hainsworth said he arrived at the audition as Dirtman, wearing clothes he'd left in his front yard the night before. At the audition, Gus Van Sant asked him about Kentucky and said he'd grown up there as well. Mr. Hainsworth's part was cut from the movie, but he said he may appear in the recently released extended edition.

Maybe it's the acting connection, but when speaking of Mr. Hainsworth, friends and co-workers tend to get a bit, well, dramatic. "He is creativity in the gestalt!" said former Starbucks colleague Kelli McCusker, now chief marketing officer of Izze Beverages. "From the first time you meet him, you can't miss the brand he has created in his person. He is light, openness, humor and individuality walking down the hall. And I'm not talking about the hair. It's in his eyes."
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