December 26, 2015 Opportunity

Hot Jobs, Cool People at Starbucks

More than 300,000 Starbucks partners (employees) around the globe share this mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. Starbucks mission and values are evident every day in the talented people who do a variety of jobs. Here are a few of the many partners who made 2015 a remarkable year for Starbucks.

Barista Champions

In competitions around the world, Starbucks baristas celebrated their passion and pride for coffee while showcasing their skills.

Gürkan Kumak, a Starbucks barista who worked in the world of finance before changing careers three years ago, was among the year’s best in class. Kumak was the 2015 winner of Starbucks EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Barista Championships after competing in three categories: barista craft, signature beverage and personal coffee tastings.  “I want this championship to inspire partners in Turkey and encourage limitless coffee passion,” he said.

The phrase “limitless coffee passion” aptly describes Leslie Wolford too. The senior green coffee specialist has been with Starbucks for over 24 years. Discover more about Leslie’s coffee journey while listening to this podcast describing the four formal steps of a Starbucks coffee tasting.

Frappuccino Blended Beverage Team

To mark the 20th birthday of Starbucks® Frappuccino Blended Beverages, in March the company offered the Birthday Cake Frappuccino – a vanilla bean and hazelnut beverage topped with raspberry-infused whipped cream. Other flavors created for limited-time offers in 2015 included the S’mores Frappuccino, six new flavors for the summer, a returning favorite with Mocha Coconut Frappuccino and fun seasonal beverages like the Frappula Frappuccino.

The Frappuccino Blended Beverage team tackled a new challenge in October. Starbucks and Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch created the Beast Mode Frappuccino to benefit opportunity youth (16- to 24-year-olds who are not in school and are not employed). They’re often called “opportunity youth” because not only are they seeking opportunity, but they represent untapped opportunity for businesses needing new talent.

For every Beast Mode™ Frappuccino® blended beverage sold throughout the football season in Washington and Oakland, Starbucks will donate 24 cents – which coincides with Lynch’s number – to the Fam 1st Family Foundation, up to $100,000. Starbucks kicked off the new collaboration and beverage with a $24,000 contribution to the foundation.

Deaf and American Sign Language Baristas

Starbucks serves 80 million people each week in its stores around the world, yet every interaction between partners and customers is personal. There are countless examples every day of how partners serve customers in meaningful ways.

Kwon Soonmi has been a Starbucks barista in Seoul, Korea, for four years and won a “best smile” contest voted on by customers. Her beaming smile isn’t the only thing that sets her apart. Kwon is deaf. 

“When faced with difficulties, I just don’t give up. Rather, I keep searching for solutions to overcome them,” she said. “In a sense, every little mundane task others did turned out to be something I had to practice to overcome.” She was recently promoted to assistant store manager, becoming the first partner with disability to be in a managerial role at Starbucks Coffee Korea.

In another story, what started with a common greeting from a barista – “Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you today?” – became a viral moment of connection viewed by nearly 11 million people around the world. Starbucks customer Rebecca King posted a video of her placing an order at a Starbucks drive-thru in St. Augustine, Florida. What made the conversation distinct is that it was communicated through American Sign Language.

“I’ve had a passion for sign language since I first saw a teacher use it when I was in preschool, and I’ve studied ASL ever since,” said Katie Wyble, who’s been a Starbucks partner since May.

Belinda Wong, president of Starbucks China

As China’s President Xi and Madame Peng visited Seattle and Washington, D.C., in September, the president of Starbucks China shared the experience with her partners noting, “It was an emotional experience listening to President Xi share his hopes and dreams for China and the Chinese people. I am committed to ensuring that we at Starbucks do everything possible to help you achieve your personal and career aspirations.”

Starbucks has been in China for nearly 17 years. In the last three years, Starbucks has more than tripled the store count in China. This year one store opened every 18 hours. Wong will meet with more than 1,300 China partners and their families in January 2016 for the fourth Partner Family Forum.

“We’re trying to build a different kind of company in China and are mindful of how we grow while maintaining the heart and soul of what Starbucks stands for. Growth has to be built on the foundational values of Starbucks,” said Wong. She was recognized for her leadership in 2015 by Forbes as one of the Top 100 Chinese Business Women. Wong also made Fortune's list of 25 Most Influential Business Women in China for the fourth consecutive year. 

Mobile App Developers

It was a big year for the Starbucks® Mobile App, which gave a few members of Starbucks digital production team an opportunity to reflect on the work they do to create digital tools that customers and partners find useful.

“What motivates me to get to work every day is helping create the technology that makes life a little easier,” said Caroline Maxwell, a Starbucks graphic designer who works on the Android development team. Maxwell started with Starbucks as a barista in a busy 24-hour drive-thru location. Her three years of in-store experience influences her design perspective today and she "always has barista usability in mind."

Justin Shorney, an iOS developer who began working for Starbucks three years ago, said, “Having an in-house team like ours helps Starbucks create an app that is exactly what our customers want and yet we’re able to breathe Starbucks culture into the product too.”

Michael Conway, president Starbucks Global Channel Development

1988 was a memorable year for Michael Conway, a college athlete at Duke University and captain of the lacrosse team. Duke upset the undefeated Loyola University team in overtime. After that NCAA tournament, Conway earned the ACC Senior Merit Award, given each year to the top scholar-athlete at each league school.

Today the All-American athlete leads a different kind of team. Conway joined Starbucks two years ago as president of Global Channel Development. He’s responsible for a team of about 550 people who support the company’s Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) portfolio and Branded Solutions, which includes licensed stores and foodservice.

With his Starbucks team, Conway stresses the value of fitness, nutrition, sleep, and work-life balance. “Starbucks has high expectations, but we also care about the whole person,” Conway added. “When our people are at their best, the business is too.”

Partner Cup Contest Designers

Monarch butterflies spread their wings. Stars dance on a midnight sky. Fall flowers reach for the last rays of sunshine. These images on three Starbucks reusable cups were designed by baristas who won the first White Cup Contest for partners.

“Butterfly” was the Native American name given to Brandon Fragua’s grandmother on her wedding day. His grandfather, a member of the Jemez Pueblo Tribe, had a butterfly tattoo that is similar to one Brandon has on his arm as a symbol of transformation. Inspired by its meaning, Fragua drew monarch butterflies around the cup, fluttering from the bottom to the top.

“We are obligated to take care of the resources we have around us, and I think we have a responsibility to keep the beauty of our planet intact,” said Ben Cowley, a partner who designed the midnight sky cup. “Maybe the cup will inspire someone to just take a look upwards the next time it’s a beautiful, clear night. That would be nice.”

Scandinavian immigrants brought their Nordic traditions with them when they in the U.S. including a style of art called Rosemåling. Brynn James learned the art form as a child and incorporated it into her cup design. “There are a lot of dark, gloomy days back there, so the art is a reminder that it’s not going to be winter forever,” said James, who has since left the company to spend more time with her family.

Partners who Give Back in Many Ways

Spending the first 11 years of her life as a nomad in Somalia motivated a Starbucks partner to help children. “As a child, my daily life focused on battling thirst, hunger and extreme drought,” said Asha Farah, who recalled for half the year she chased the rainfalls and raised livestock with her mother and siblings. Their only shelter was a portable house made of bent sticks, dried grass and woven mats. 

Decades later Farah, a manager on Starbucks real estate team, joined with three Somali Americans to start the Karin Foundation, a nonprofit that opens schools, provides supplies, pays teacher salaries and sustains classrooms in small, remote villages. When a Starbucks Newsroom story was published in May of this year, Burao Academy site was nothing more than a "wind-swept patch of bare ground, home to thorny bushes and acacia trees," Farah said. "Flocks of goats and an occasional herd of camels browsed on the meager scrubs of this dry land. Today this patch of land couldn’t be more different."

A security fence encompasses the site; a roadway connecting the land to the city of Burao has been cleared; municipal water supply has been extended to the school grounds; and solar energy is being planned as the primary source of power for the school. Construction of six buildings (classrooms and dormitories) is expected to be completed in March 2016.

Lucy Helm, general counsel

Volunteering is as second nature for Starbucks executive vice president, general counsel and secretary Lucy Helm.   

Helm, head of Starbucks Global Law & Corporate Affairs Department, oversees 210 legal and compliance partners in 16 offices around the world. She also serves as a member of Starbucks senior leadership team and supports the company’s board of directors.

In a conversation about her 15 years with Starbucks and a lifetime of community service, Helm outlined several characteristics of a good employer such as "providing inspiring and challenging work.” She also offered this advice to partners: “Be ‘all in’ – be passionate about the coffee, our partners and the third place experience we provide to so many. And never stop learning.”

Global Digital Marketing social media team

From morning coffee to afternoon lattes, Starbucks customers post countless pictures of their beverages on social media. The iconic Starbucks® cup often appears with a range of interesting backgrounds, such as international skylines and beaches at sunset.

Starbucks core social media team connects with fans through over 30 accounts on more than a dozen different social platforms. Somehow, they translate the personalities of beverages such as Pumpkin Spice Latte to social media. How does the team do that?

Their work is a constant cycle of listening to people who are drawn to popular Starbucks® beverages and then “holding the funhouse mirror up to reflect the community," said Ryan Turner, Starbucks director of Global Social Media.


For more information on this story, contact the Starbucks Newsroom