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Good work from Starbucks, and types of CEOs I’ve met

Today I had one of those rare treats I get now and again running an ethical business magazine.

I interviewed the MD of Starbucks UK, Darcy Willson-Rymer, about a big announcement Starbucks are making tomorrow.

For coffee retail in the UK, and perhaps elsewhere, it’s big news.

Check the news tomorrow. (It’s embargoed as I write this, for about another ten minutes. At least, it was when I began writing this)

More on that in a minute.

For writers/journalists, meeting business leaders for one on one interviews is both thrilling and fun.

It’s thrilling because it’s often as exciting as writing about business gets. (Commissioning and editing investigations aside!)

And because you are meeting someone that a lot of people don’t get to, because you are media.

Someone who has a fair amount of power, at least in their own firm and industry.

It’s fun because you get to make them nervous. They don’t know what to expect.

Being interviewed on the ethics of your company makes almost everyone a little uneasy.

(One of the few CEOs I’ve seen who never looked nervous was John Browne at BP. I went to the press conference after the Texas City disaster a few years ago, and he handled it brilliantly, given the terrible circumstances)

I digress momentarily.

So as a business ethics writer, it’s fun (and thrilling for the above reasons), because you have a momentary amount of power over someone some other people think are important.

You get to ask them questions that not many others do. Difficult questions.

I’ll come back to Darcy Willson-Rymer of Starbucks in a minute. And their news.

Often when I meet CEOs and MD’s of companies about ethics and sustainability, I put them into three categories:

1) They get it, totally, and are almost religious in their enthusiasm. They live and breathe it.

2) They don’t get it, but they pretend that they do, but it’s easy to see through them after a while by asking questions, or watching their company.

3) They get it, but didn’t ‘grow up’ with it. They’ve come late to the party, but they see the moral and business case, and buy in.

I could name names about who I think doesn’t get it.

But in many cases, those executives no longer run those companies. Some still do.

In terms of those that I think get it, totally, they generally stick around longer.

I’m thinking of Jeff Swartz at Timberland, Jeffrey Hollender at Seventh Generation, Charles Middleton at Triodos, Mick Bremens at Ecover, I could go on.

The third group are some of the most interesting because a lot of the names in the above brief list run small, or smallish companies.

That’s not to say they are not ‘game changers’ in sustainability. Most are, in many ways. Significantly.

But it’s the third group that’s increasingly the biggest. The leaders who came late to the CR/Sustainability party, but really get how key it is, and are running companies across the FTSE500, or are big in their sectors.

In that group you might put Anders Dahlvig, of Ikea, Peter Swinburn of Molson Coors, Richard Brown of Eurostar, Ben Verwaayen of Alcatel-Lucent, Hans Wijers of Akzo Nobel, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo.

There are legions more these days.

Darcy Willson-Rymer is in this third group. He definitely gets it. (and he knows the names of London store managers off the top of his head, that’s always impressive)

You’ll see what I mean from the forthcoming Starbucks announcement. It’s a praiseworthy move, particularly given the recession.

We’ll be reporting on it in detail in a forthcoming issue of our print magazine

Actually, given that it’s now past midnight as I write this. I’m now not breaking the embargo. So here it is.

Starbucks is about to make sure that, in the UK, more than 90% of the coffee it sells every day is fair trade certified.

That’s way more than any of it’s nearest competitors. That’s leadership in action.

We’ll be comparing how the other firms stack up against Starbucks in the UK in the magazine before the end of the year.

It should make interesting reading.

Meanwhile, it was a pleasure to meet Darcy Willson-Rymer of Starbucks today. (That’s a link to his Twitter page)

Here’s why:

When I had turned the tape off after the interview, he leaned forward and asked me informally: “So really, what do you think?”.

I could see the enthusiasm and passion in his eyes.

That moment said more than anything we’d spoken about in the previous 30 minutes.

That’s when you know someone really gets it.

1 Comment

  1. I've met Darcy and was totally impressed! It was a delight to read about your interview. Funny when I met him in person that's just what I thought: "He totally gets it" ! I would have had to take issue with your article had you said a disparaging word about him!

    Follow me on twitter –
    @starbucksmelody

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