Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks, visited the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Sept. 27 to share his insights on corporate responsibility, risk-taking and the importance of human connection throughout his career.
Johnson was joined in conversation by Jeff Raikes, co-founder of the Raikes Foundation and former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The talk was organized in partnership with Nebraska’s Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management.
“I’m very fortunate and privileged to have inherited a company that is built around a mission that is inspiring and grounded in humanity,” Johnson said. “The mission of Starbucks is to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time…our reason for being as a company goes far beyond the pursuit of profit.”
In his hour-long chat, Johnson elaborated on that mission. The CEO explained that he believes in treating his employees as valued stakeholders in the company, as well as continually looking to where his company will be in 50 years to leave behind a solid legacy for future generations.
Johnson also discussed the broader lessons he’s learned throughout his career, which has included tenures at IBM, Microsoft and Juniper Networks. The executive answered questions from Raikes and audience members on the importance of having a mentor, stepping away from work to spend time with family, learning from failure and taking risks.
“I took 32 years of experience in the tech industry, working with some of the world’s greatest innovators of my lifetime, and I’ve applied those principles in terms of how we how we drive innovation at Starbucks,” Johnson said. “It’s all about sort of eliminating this fear of failure and embracing the celebration of work.
“To be a lifelong learner, I believe you have to constantly push outside the comfort zone.”
Austin Hillman, a finance major from Gretna, was one of the many students who came to listen to Johnson. He also had the opportunity to see the CEO during his visit to the Raikes program in Kauffman Residential Center earlier in the day.
Hillman said he was impressed, and surprised, by the CEO’s philosophy on business.
“He’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and you would expect the CEO of a large company to really be thinking about profits, how to minimize costs and how to maximize efficiency,” Hillman said. “But in almost every single answer he gave, he went back to developing people and his employees and treating them like members and owners of the business. That really resonated with me.
“He seems to really care about the people who help contribute to his company, and he wants to give back to them, which is really cool.”