On Friday, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was applauded at the company’s annual investor meeting for doing something chief executives rarely do: He told off a shareholder.
Granted, the shareholder in question was Thomas Strobhar, the founder of the Corporate Morality Action Center, which states that its mission is to challenge corporations on issues like gay marriage, abortion and pornography. Last year Starbucks’ endorsed a Washington state bill to legalize same-sex marriage, which prompted the National Organization for Marriage to organize a boycott of the coffee behemoth. So in last week’s meeting, Strobhar criticized Starbuck’s endorsement for hurting sales and profits in the first quarter of 2012.
The complaint may have been typical of a corporate gadfly, but Schultz’s response was not. Rather than simply addressing the grievance, the coffee titan went further. He basically told Strobhar he could look to invest elsewhere if he wished: “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” And in language one rarely hears from corporate executives, he said he was not putting concerns about any financial fallout first: “This was not an economic decision,” he told Strobhar.