Aspen Ideas Reporters Notebook: A Starbucks crisis and Churchill by the numbers |

Aspen Ideas Reporters Notebook: A Starbucks crisis and Churchill by the numbers

Aspen Institute campus
Leigh Vogel

Aspen Ideas Fest Available Tickets, Tuesday, June 25

Pushing the Limits of Human Performance: Is 40 the new 20 for Pro Athletes?

  • Top athletes in their respective sports share details about the training and lifestyle changes that are keeping them as strong as their younger selves.
  • $30
  • Kyle Korver, Kevin Love, Hilaree Nelson, moderated by Jon Frankel
  • Hotel Jerome Ballroom: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Understanding Emotion: Suicide Touches All of Us - What Can We Do About It?
  • There are now more than twice as many suicides in the United States as homicides, and it's the 10th leading cause of death.
  • $30
  • Agnes McKeen, Christine Moutier, Laura Trujillo, moderated by Nicole Carroll
  • Wheeler Opera House Bar: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Next World Order: Is Diplomacy Dead?
  • In a shifting geopolitical landscape characterized by the emergence of Russia and China as significant rivals to the United Sates, new dangers threaten the American idea and an American-led world order.
  • $30
  • William Burns, George Packer, moderated by Mary Louise Kelly
  • St. Regis Hotel Ballroom: 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.

The No. 2 person for Starbucks had both a personal and professional response to an incident last year that tarnished the company’s reputation.

As the chief operating officer of Starbucks, Rosalind Brewer was on the front lines addressing a viral story about two black men, both age 23, being arrested at a Starbucks store located in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood.

And as the black mother to two children, one a young man, the issue’s closeness to home was indisputable.

Police officers, ultimately eight of them, arrived at the Starbucks after its store manager called authorities to ask for the removal of two black men who had been there 10 minutes but had not ordered anything. Police arrested the two men for trespassing; they had been waiting for a third person to join them for a business meeting.

“Once we realized that we had a breakdown in leadership and we knew that our policies weren’t in place, we knew we had a lot of work to do,” Brewer told interviewer Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer at The Washington Post. “And we knew that in order to maintain a place in our stores where you can come to think, read and have a great conversation and coffee — we knew that that was all at risk.”

Starbucks didn’t exactly get ahead of the issue, however. That’s because it was nearly impossible given the immediacy of social media, she said. Company executives were spread over the country when the news broke on a Thursday afternoon, while the social-media engine cranked up after a Starbucks patron posted a video of the incident and arrest.

“So everything immediately went to social media,” she said. “And then the rest of the world showed up.”

Howard Schultz, then no longer the company’s CEO but its board’s executive chairman, told the brass “to be bold in order to get this right,” Brewer recalled.

On May 29 after the incident, the Seattle-based company closed all 8,000 stores it owns in the U.S. so its employees could undergo racial-bias training.

“Starbucks was very serious about getting it right,” she said, later adding: “It was our fault. It was not those two gentlemen’s fault; we were not going to make it their fault. We were not going to make it the fault of the local police officers, or the mayor, or anyone else. Starbucks made that issue happen. Our store manager caused that to happen. So own it. When you mess up, own it.”

Meanwhile, Brewer also was getting an earful from her son.

“He called me right away, … he was like, ‘Mom, I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing, but you’ve got to address to this. You’ve got to get this under control.’ He was livid. … But he really wanted me to get after it. But he gave me confidence to do everything I could possibly do, because I could tell in his voice. I heard the fear in his voice. He was scared. He thought about himself.”

Brewer said she and her husband regularly talk with their son, who lives in Brooklyn, about what to do when he has a police encounter, telling him “when you get pulled over by an officer, you call us right away. And you also call some friends of the police that we’ve introduced you to, and you be ready to take action. We’ve been very clear with (our son) about that.”

While she has a high-ranking position with a major American company, Brewer has spoken often about her insecurities, such as going home to change after a workout before she goes shopping. A better-dressed appearance, she said, lessens the chance for someone to single her out because of her race, as opposed to if she were wearing gym clothes, she said.

Brewer — a former CEO and president of Sam’s Club, and a current member of Amazon’s board of directors — mentors young women and “I always tell them to be prideful,” she said.


British historian and biographer Andrew Roberts has a new book out, “Churchill: Walking with Destiny,” a near 1,000-page offering about the man who was the U.K.’s two-time prime minister, including from 1940 to 1945 during most of World War II.

Roberts enjoyed access to King George VI’s private correspondence with Churchill during WWII, which might separate it from the 1,009 other books written about the British Bulldog.

“There has been in the last six to 10 years an absolute avalanche of new sources that have been coming out on Winston Churchill,” he told the audience Monday at Paepcke Auditorium, where he delivered professor-like lecture on Churchill’s virtues and struggles.

Brewer also had fun with numbers, pointing out that Churchill, who was not a Christian but believed in a lord almighty, not once mentioned the name “Jesus Christ” in the 5.2 million words he wrote and the 6.2 million words he spoke, Roberts said.

During his first six months of life, Churchill only saw his mother for a total of 61/2 hours, Roberts noted. Churchill, known for his heavy drinking, also was not an alcoholic, Roberts said, maintaining that during the 2,194 days of World War II, he got drunk just once. He also “burst into tears” 50 times during the war, Roberts said.

Churchill lived in debt and wrote 37 books and numerous articles to pay his bills, Roberts said.

Above all of that, Churchill was the first prominent politician to sound the alarm about Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, he said.

“He didn’t actually save London and England, but he actually saved civilization itself,” he said.


Local 14 year old writes young adult novels

Nyala Honey has done more in her 14 years on this earth than many people accomplish in decades. The 14-year-old Basalt resident has published two young adult novels, which she’ll talk about and read from at Explore Booksellers at 2 p.m. on June 8.

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