Well done, Starbucks. You have earned my respect. Unless the book How Starbucks Saved My Life is a complete fraud. But this blog post will be based upon the assumption that the book is, in fact, a nonfiction work.
I have written a short review of this book on my 20 Books for Summer 2011 page so if you would prefer the book not be spoiled, I suggest reading that review instead of this one.
This is a story of an older gentleman who is down on his luck job-wise after being fired from a company that he has worked for his entire life. He was a big time executive at an advertising company until one day, he was fired. There was really no reason behind it other than the fact that he was getting old. After being fired from his job, he tried to maintain the clients he had, but pretty soon they dwindled off as well. After giving his wife (now ex-wife) his large house during a divorce settlement that was caused by the affair he had with another woman (who he also has a child with), he began living in apartments in New York City. The rent of these apartments eventually became cheaper and cheaper, as the amount of money he had in his bank account was decreasing and the amount of income was little to none. One morning he stopped at a Starbucks for a cup of coffee that he describes in the book as a luxury he no longer could afford. Sitting there, a young woman asks him if he needs a job. He thought she was joking…but he said yes. The story continues as a documentation of “the best job he’s ever had”.
I think some of the most striking things about this book are the stories that Michael Gates Gill tells. The Starbucks experiences that Gills depicts are paralleled with experiences from his past. Experiences from before he worked as a barista at Starbucks. Experiences that include meeting Frank Sinatra, the Queen of England, Jackie Kennedy, Ernest Hemingway, etc. The interesting thing about the stories from his past are the way they are sparked in the present. For instance, the story of meeting Frank Sinatra stemmed from a coffee tasting seminar he conducted after working for Starbucks for several months. After his seminar was finished, “That’s Life” came over their in-house radio. He thinks back and remembers his time with Frank Sinatra. As he tries to tell one of his “Partners”–apparently that’s what Starbucks calls “coworkers”–he realizes that this particular coworker wasn’t even born when Frank Sinatra was alive.
Gills’ age is a constant struggle in his new work environment. But he finds comfort in the fact that one of the main company policies is “respect”. Respect for him. Respect for the Guests (he always capitalizes the word “guest”). Respect for the company. He explains this unusual experience of all-around respect as going through the doors of the closet of Narnia. It’s a completely different atmosphere. One that he’s never experienced before. Although he struggles with some of the tasks that his Partners ask of him, he is always treated with the utmost respect. And I think that has a huge impact on him.
As you might imagine, in his previous work-life, he was once a very harsh CEO-type. One that didn’t care for other people. One that put his job before his family at all times. Thinking, at the time, that his dedication to his job was best for him and his family. But not realizing that he was actually hurting his relationships more than he was helping them. But you see the transformation in Gills through his time at Starbucks. To the point of him humbling himself and apologizing to his daughter for “ruining her life”. Recognizing that he has done wrong in his life and being able to say so out loud is something that you never would have seen Gills do in his life before Starbucks.
Lastly, on the surface level, the benefits that Starbucks employees receive are actually really awesome. I’m not sure if the benefits are still the way that Gills explains them. But if they are, I would TOTALLY take a job at Starbucks. Plus you get free coffee…
This was by far the most entertaining and capturing nonfiction novels I’ve read. I would definitely recommend it to anybody who is interested! I think that the most compelling part of the book was the transformation of Gills from the beginning of the book to the end. You meet Gills at the lowest point of his life. Running on the fumes of the life that he led as a CEO. The book ends with Gills in the happiest place he’s ever been. Doing manual labor like he’s never done before. Cleaning bathrooms better than anyone else in that Starbucks can clean, and being proud of it.
I hope the details in this book are true. Because, if so, I feel much better about my morning iced coffee purchases. I have no problem whatsoever supporting a company that treats its employees the way that Michael Gates Gill explains.
You’re welcome for choosing Starbucks! And if you don’t mind, I’d like a venti iced coffee.