Starbucks CEO Aims to Return to Brand Roots

Schultz Leans on 'People He Trusts' to Restore Brand, In-store Experience

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CHICAGO ( -- Howard Schultz has assembled his team to bring Starbucks back to its roots, boosting one insider and pulling a friend out of retirement to get the job done.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Credit: AP

Harry Roberts, who worked at the coffee chain in the mid-1990s and during a stint in 2004, is returning to the company as senior VP-chief creative officer. At the same time, Terry Davenport, a former KFC marketer who joined Starbucks in 2006, was moved to senior VP-marketing to lead brand strategy. Both men are assuming pieces of Michelle Gass' former post; she becomes senior VP-global strategy, overseeing all aspects of Mr. Schultz's plan.

"As the leader of this talented senior executive team, I accept full responsibility for and am totally committed to the in-store customer experience," Mr. Schultz, CEO, said in a statement. "I will be directly engaged in ensuring a superior experience for our customers."

The company declined to comment further on the realignment.

"With all these management changes, Howard Schultz is clearly surrounding himself with people he trusts," said John Moore, a former Starbucks marketer who blogs at

Roberts' prior stint
During his stints at the coffee giant, Mr. Roberts worked on developing products including Frappuccino, Fontana Syrups, Infusia Tea, the Starbucks coffee makers and the company's cookbook ventures. He also directed creative on several campaigns, including "One World, Many Traditions," "At Home With Espresso" and the recent "Blue Note" campaign. Most recently, Mr. Roberts ran Pallino Pastaria Co., a chain of four quick-service Italian trattorias he developed and founded in 1999.

In his new role, Mr. Roberts will be responsible for the customer in-store experience, merchandise strategy and the overall look and feel of the company's stores. Those who know him say that he will do so enthusiastically. "Harry Roberts is never short on ideas be they brilliant or banal," said one.

Mr. Davenport will be responsible for the company's overall marketing plan, product development, consumer insights and innovation for food and beverage, among other things. "He's not a total quality-management guy," said a marketer familiar with Mr. Davenport's work. "He's more of a brand, 30,000-foot guy."

Starbucks reported a decline in transactions per store for the quarter ended Sept. 30. By January, Starbucks' share price was at in the $18 range, its lowest level in more than three years. At that point, Mr. Schultz swooped down from the chairman's seat and took over the CEO role once more.

Tough year for marketer
These events capped off a rough year for Starbucks, kicked off in February by a leaked memo from Mr. Schultz that described the "watering down of the Starbucks experience and what some might call the commoditization of our brand."

Starbucks has, however, put its marketing efforts into high gear. After spending only $38 million in measured media during 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence, the company spent $40 million in the first nine months of 2007. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Starbucks broke its first national TV work, by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. Although the move was jeered by marketers who felt that Starbucks should have kept its traditional distance from mass media, the work has been widely praised, even by Ad Age's Bob Garfield.

Yet, there's still a lot of work to do. Robert Passikoff, president of branding consultancy Brand Keys, noted that Starbucks fell from the top position in his company's annual coffee survey, which asks consumers where they buy their favorite cup of joe. Starbucks had held the top spot for three years, when Dunkin' Donuts overtook it in the 2006 study, released last January.

When the 2007 study comes out later this month, Mr. Passikoff thinks Starbucks could fall further, and that McDonald's will appear on the list for the first time. "Change will not happen overnight," Mr. Schultz said. "It will evolve over time, but I ensure you a positive change will occur. I, along with our dedicated partners, will strive to exceed the expectations of our customers every day."
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