The most important — yet often undervalued — components of any company are human resources and employee training, believes Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks Coffee Co.

During a passionate keynote speech at the Insurance Conference Planner's Association Annual Meeting in Seattle, November 3 to 7, Schultz shared insights on Starbuck's growth from a local Seattle company with 11 stores in 1987 to 6,000 stores worldwide today. The success was not because of marketing (Starbuck's has never advertised), or real-estate savvy, or even the quality of the product, said Schultz. “We have no patent, no secret sauce,” he noted. Rather, the Starbucks brand is based on a balance of profit-ability and benevolence. All employees, even part-timers, became stakeholders in the company back in 1992. “The power of your business lies in the power of your people,” said Schultz.

Companies that don't recognize this won't thrive, he stressed. “It's not business as usual anymore. Customers are beginning to take cultural audits of your business practices. How you treat your people and what you give back to your community are what counts. You have to find ways to demonstrate the conscience of your business.”

For more on ICPA's Annual Meeting, see page 84.