The Starbucks Experience

Predilections and Prejudices of EmployeesStarbucks just found out the hard way. Their own people can take unwarranted, fear-based actions that marginalize an entire segment of the population. They found out that those actions can reflect on their company which relies on the entire population, not a single segment, for its reputation, brand image, and ultimately, its very income!

Starbucks simply cannot withstand a boycott by the offended groups or their supporters. There is a real business message here! People vote with their money and they will no longer vote for businesses that marginalize them or others. We admire Starbucks for taking responsibility and for beginning a sensitivity program that is aimed at addressing this problem. But it is in their own best interests.

With the ability to quickly capture, share, and go viral, events of this nature can dramatically affect business. That reality has every business now thinking about the mindset of those they hire who represent them. It’s not enough to hire on skillset alone anymore. Their predilections can turn business away!

Prejudices in Business & Politics

Although much progress has been made since the early days of the civil rights movement, recent behavior by our top elected officials has encouraged many with deep-seated prejudices to act out. They somehow feel vindicated. These people feel they have been given permission to marginalize people. They see top elected officials name calling, ridiculing, dehumanizing and disrespecting large segments of the population based on race, religion, or national origin – and some follow their example.

ABC found out the hard way. Rosanne Barr’s marginalizing tweet about Valerie Jarrett went viral. They were forced to cancel her show or face a boycott of advertisers who are dependent on sales to the entire market, not just one segment.

So, we seem to be living in a society with a double standard. It’s unfortunately “OK” for elected officials to marginalize folks, but not for businesses. Businesses are held to a higher standard of respect for civil liberties. You might have to wait years to vote out elected officials. But you can vote out Starbucks or ABC tomorrow!

Good News & Bad News

The bad news is that as far as we have come, latent stereotypes, fears, and prejudices are still prevalent in our society. It seems to be emboldened and sometimes taken into action by people who harbor these predilections. Perhaps they are choosing news feeds that agree with those prejudices. Perhaps they want to take the next step backwards. Or perhaps they actually believe that society is returning to a more intolerant time.

The good news is that most businesses must serve the entire society. Unlike politicians, they can’t just play to a narrow base. In fact, their customers, their advertisers, and their suppliers are holding them accountable for the behavior of everyone who represents them. In a way, we think businesses that want to include everyone as potential customers have become the inadvertent defenders of civil liberties.

We like to say, “If you really want to change something, put a buck on it!” Marginalized groups like African Americans, Latinos, or the LGBTQ are now powerful economic forces to be reckoned with. Employee sensitivity training might start with why we are all dependent upon one another, how our very livelihood comes from people of all races, religions, and national origins, and why we need everybody’s patronage to earn our paychecks.

Perhaps, if we started to look at everyone as a customer, we would treat them with more respect. Minorities have huge financial clout. They know if one minority is marginalized, their minority might be next. So basically, it’s just plain bad business to bring prejudice in any form into the marketplace. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!

Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

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