Passion in Public Service: Lessons from Starbucks | The Death and Coffee Series (Part 8)

This is our seventh in a series of articles in the Funeral Business Advisor applying the successful principles of Starbucks management to the funeral profession. The history of Starbucks should be required reading for the funeral service profession. Starbucks did it right. Starbucks started with a single location in 1971 and now have 20,000. They revolutionized coffee. How did they accomplish this in such a short time? Sticking to their principles!

Let’s summarize what we have discussed so far. In the first article, we talked about how Starbucks made their customers the center of the universe. Their business model was guided by this goal. In the second article, we discussed Starbucks emphasis on high quality employees. Good employees do not happen by accident. It requires hard work, dedication and time for employee training, development, and monitoring.

In the third article, we explored the dilemma, price versus quality. If your products are consistently high quality, price competition is not a problem. Starbucks has shown that you can build an empire (even with low priced competitors) if you emphasize quality. In the fourth article we asked: What do you sell? You are a service. If you emphasize quality, professional service, your business will be healthy.

In the fifth article, we addressed crisis management or how to handle it when things go wrong (and things will go wrong, you can plan on that!). Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks describes it this way: “retail is detail.” You must plan for every detail. In the sixth article we discussed feedback, and how to be sure you are delivering what the customer desires. These concepts equally apply to the funeral profession!

In this article, we discuss how to pour your fire into helping others into public good, without alienating anyone. If you are a funeral home professional, I imagine you have a strong instinct to help others, and a desire to give something back. That is highly commendable.
However, we have one important caveat inspired by recent events.

Don’t spend your passion in partisan politics.

We live in a very divided country at the moment. Getting highly involved in a partisan political fight is toxic.

I love politics as much as the next guy or girl, probably more. But this is a unique time in our history. We are a very divided country. Partisan politics fuels the divide.
Because of partisan politics, we read different newspapers, watch different television stations, listen to different radio stations, and read different books from those whose political views differ from our own. We might as well live on separate planets.

Take your passion for partisan politics, and convert that energy into a positive social issue. Notice I said a positive social issue, not a controversial one.

Imagine going to your favorite restaurant and seeing a huge poster on the front door announcing the owner’s view on politics. You came into the pizza parlor for your pepperoni fix, not a heated debate. Customers with the opposite view will leave (probably forever). Some customers who agree with you might also leave, thinking this is not the appropriate place/time for this discussion. You can’t win.

If you get involved in politics, you risk a boycott. Ask Target what happened to sales after their stand on gender bathrooms. Ask L.L. Bean what happened to sales after their very public partisan involvement.

Take your passion and turn it into public good. Plenty of worthwhile causes need your help and support. Get involved.

Again, look to Starbucks. As an organization, they give to many charitable causes through their foundation. Starbucks even has a vice-president of Corporate Social Responsibility to make sure they are behaving in an ethical way.

Let’s look at a few other examples.

Remember Bob Barker?

Every episode on the Price is Right had Mr. Barker mention his passion for animal rights. He was quick and subtle. Just a 20 second plug for animal rights at the conclusion of each show. He never got on a soapbox or demeaned anyone. He raised a lot of awareness (and a huge amount of money) for animal rights charities over the years. He had a huge impact in the world, and never offended anyone.

My other job (should teaching not work out) is being a magician. Many famous magicians have charities which ignite their passion. Lance Burton, who recently retired from his long running magic show in Las Vegas, is also a big advocate of animal rights. Besides being a great guy and a fantastic magician, he raises awareness and a lot of funds for animal rights issues. He makes a difference.

Of course, you can’t mention Las Vegas magicians without talking about Siegfried and Roy, the magical pair who have single-handedly kept an animal (white tigers) from extinction because of their efforts and financial support. They changed the world, and even in retirement have a huge influence.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has supported many causes, including education (in the US and abroad), global poverty and disease prevention. Author JK Rowling (Harry Potter) has dedicated herself to several charitable causes across the globe. These people use their celebrity status to raise funds and awareness for various causes. They are giving back, and making a huge difference.

How about another business example? Ever eat a Hershey bar?

Milton Hershey and his wife wanted children, but unable to have any (reproductive science was science fiction a century ago). They had a passion for children. Since they could not have any of their own, they dedicated themselves to helping other children. They set up the Hershey School for orphans. They started small, but kept giving, and kept it growing. When Mrs. Hershey died, Milton donated all his stock in Hershey to benefit the school. Today the school hosts over 1700 orphans and has one of the finest schools in the world, all funded by chocolate. Still today, every time you buy Hershey Kisses you are helping support the Hershey school and their very important mission. The Hershey family turned tragedy into a very good cause.

Even small gifts add up over time. General Mills (Cheerios) donates a dime for Box tops for Education. A dime does not sound like much. But since 1996, a dime per box has amounted to $175,000,000 for charity. A huge, positive impact, starting with just a dime.

I’m not a famous celebrity, and I’m certainly not rich. But I can make a difference. Each year I provide a scholarship at my home school (University of Central Oklahoma). Each year, I help one kid who might not otherwise be able to go to college. I did not change the world. But for that one kid I helped, the world changed.

I understand why people give back. It is empowering to see a change for the better because of your actions.
Ignite your passion for public service, and make the world a better place, without alienating a large portion of your customers.

True to form, I am writing this article in Starbucks, this time the one near Dongdaemun Design and Culture Center in Seoul, South Korea. And yes, their products taste the same here! FBA

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Essential Reading List
You could fill a library with books about Starbucks and their business success. These four books should be required reading for everyone in the service industry:

Pour Your Heart into It, Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks), 1997

Onward: How Starbucks fought for its life without losing its soul, Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks), 2011

The Starbucks Experience, Joseph A. Michelli, 2007

It’s not about the coffee: Leadership principles from a life at Starbucks, Howard Behar (former president of Starbucks International), 2007


Professor Marty Ludlum teaches business law at the University of Central Oklahoma and is a licensed attorney. He has made numerous presentations on the funeral industry at state and national conventions and has written articles for national and state funeral magazines. Professor Ludlum has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in economics, a Master’s degree in communication and a Juris Doctor, all from the University of Oklahoma. Professor Ludlum is the Education Director for Osiris Funeral Home Software.

Kara Gray Ludlum is a CPA and licensed Funeral Director in Oklahoma. She operates Funeral Director’s Resource, Inc., a consulting firm providing Osiris computer software and funeral home accounting. She has made many presentations to state and national conventions. Kara has Bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Oklahoma and a Master’s degree in Business from Cameron University. Kara has taught accounting at Cameron University and is a former owner of her family’s funeral homes for over 15 years.

By | 2017-11-27T13:52:36+00:00 November 22nd, 2017|Editorial|Comments Off on Passion in Public Service: Lessons from Starbucks | The Death and Coffee Series (Part 8)

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