Howard Schultz isn't worried about marketing himself as a potential president

Former Starbucks' chief says 'I know a little something about building a brand'

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Businessman and presidential candidate Howard Schultz speaks live on stage during the 2019 SXSW Conference And Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 09, 2019 in Austin, Texas.
Businessman and presidential candidate Howard Schultz speaks live on stage during the 2019 SXSW Conference And Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 09, 2019 in Austin, Texas. Credit: Jim Bennett/Getty Images

Howard Schultz may not yet have a catchy slogan for his potential presidential campaign. But if he does decide to run, he insists he knows what he's doing from a branding point of view.

The former chairman and CEO of Starbucks spoke onstage at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas Saturday morning with Dylan Byers, senior media reporter for NBC News and MSNBC, about his potential presidential run and what he sees as the current problems in the U.S. political system.

Byers suggested Schultz's branding as a candidate is squishy as of yet, and asked what he was going to do to get people excited about him as a potential Commander in Chief.

"I have not officially said that I am running for president," Schultz said. "I think if you're going to give me a little bit of credit, you have to say that over the course of the last 40 years, I know a little something about building a brand … Give me some time to sort of feel my way through. When we get to the point that that if I'm going to announce I'm running for president, you'll be the first to hear what the slogan is."

Schultz also spoke about building Starbucks into the brand it is today, and said the most important decision factoring into its success was giving ownership to everyone in the company.

"We did that when we were private and losing money," he said. "And what we did, basically, is we figured out a way to give everyone at Starbucks, including part-time people, 14 percent of their base pay in the form of stock options … although people people who were investing in the company thought that might be dilutive, what it did was demonstrated that if you're going to give ownership to every single employee, you're going to create a culture, a set of values and guiding principles in which everyone is going to be facing in the same direction, there's going to be less attrition, higher performance, and what occurred in terms of the success of the company is directly linked to the fact that we are all owners of the same company, and that had never been done before for part-time workers."

He said the "secret sauce of the company," instead of the product or the real estate or design, has been that focus.

"The secret is the culture and values and guiding principles of the company, a level of behavior in how people are treated," he said. "We're not perfect. We make mistakes. We employ 400,000 and have 30,000 stores. But we've demonstrated over a 40-year period that culture really does matter."

During the wide-ranging talk, Schultz also spoke about the criticisms from those who believe that if he runs as a third-party candidate, he will be effectively helping re-elect Donald Trump.

"It's a tough hypothetical to answer, but what I've said time and time again is 'I will do nothing to re-elect Donald Trump,'" he said. "So if the math doesn't work and there's any indication whatsoever that there's real risk to my being in the race that would re-elect Donald Trump," Schultz said he would not seek to be a candidate.

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