Tuesday, September 05, 2006

interview with the vampire slayer


everyone has heroes. one of my heroes happens to be my former boss of my former company (see pic at right for a hint). i asked rick boleto if he would consider contributing to the coffee press blog by submitting to either a lie detector test or an email interview a la my first one with steve leighton of has bean coffee in the u.k. rick graciously accepted my offer and since i have no reason to believe he would fail any lie detector test (and since i couldn't remember where i put the thing, either...or remember how to use it...or exactly how i would administer it across the internet...) i opted for the email interview instead.

having known rick now for coming up on five years i can say i've watched him operate as a person of high personal integrity and an even higher amount of passion for coffee and company. and since coffee *is* his company, rick is perfectly suited for work in one of the world's premiere coffee companies, starbucks coffee company. seriously, after working for starbucks for three and a half years i can truly say rick is one of the most effortlessly starbuckian people i know--a very high compliment in starbucks circles. he knows his stuff and he always makes his team around him better. as you read the interview i hope you'll get a sense of why i admire rick so much: what makes him such a vampire slayer superhero. he is winsome and witty; aspirational, challenging and yet not afraid to fly the risk aversion flag every now and then. he's a great guy i'm glad i know.

the following is part one of two that rick and i traded. a short bio compiled by rick himself gets us started. enjoy.


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Bio – Rick Boleto, DM [ed: District Manager] & CSR [ed: Corporate Social Responsibility] Coffee Diplomat

Began my career with Starbucks as a shift manager in Atlanta, Ga in 1996.

Graduated from College of Boca Raton with a degree in accounting in 1995.

I now reside in Media, Pa about 20 minutes SW of Philadelphia with my wife of 11 years and my son Nicholas and daughter Alexandra.

I am a coffee fanatic!



1. what is one misconception among people in the specialty coffee industry about starbucks you want to correct?

After visiting the Specialty Coffee Assn. Conference in April, I am not sure there is a misconception about Starbucks Coffee Company. For me, I was encouraged that we were accepted and highly respected within the industry.

2. tell me about starbucks "c.a.f.e. practices."

This is a big question –

v In 1998, Starbucks began to integrate conservation principles in our coffee buying practices through our partnership with Conservation International (CI). Three years later, we collaborated with CI to create and pilot Starbucks Preferred Supplier Program (PSP) that was based on a set of socially and environmentally responsible coffee buying guidelines.

v These early efforts laid the groundwork for what eventually became Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices. Formally introduced in fiscal 2004, C.A.F.E. Practices was designed to assure high-quality coffee is grown and processed with environmental sensitivity and social equity throughout our coffee supply chain.

v Program improvements were made in fiscal 2005 by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), a third-party evaluation and certification firm retained by Starbucks for the development, training and auditing of C.A.F.E. Practices.

v C.A.F.E. Practices helps ensure that Starbucks purchases coffee that is grown and processed in a sustainable manner by evaluating the social, environmental and economic aspects of coffee production. The guidelines include 28 indicators against which suppliers (farmers, cooperatives, processors and exporters) are evaluated. With the exception of the indicators for quality and economic transparency, which are prerequisites, all other indicators have been assigned a minimum and a maximum number of points.

v Suppliers need to earn the minimum points in each scored area, representing social and environmental criteria. Final scores are determined by independent, third-party verifiers, a process monitored by SCS. Starbucks looks at the points earned in each section to decide each supplier’s status.

v Starbucks was presented the Gold Medal Award, by the World Environmental Center, representing the company’s leadership in the development of C.A.F.E. Practices.

v In 2005 we purchased 76.8 million pounds of coffee from CAFÉ practices supplies. In 2006 we have a goal of 150 million pounds.

3. you've had a successful career with starbucks in many roles. you could be successful in any coffee venture. what keeps you at starbucks?

Aaron - You know I am not much of a risk taker, and I feel like I am to here satisfy my entrepreneurial desires. The company has the same values as I do and as long as this continues, I will stay.

4. there was a lot of discussion that went into starbucks decision to move from the la marzocco linea to the super automatic verismo? was it a good decision? a prudent compromise?

I am pleased with the automated machines and based on customer responses, I think automated espresso is here to stay.

5. when starbucks decides to give attention to a (product) segment of the specialty coffee industry, other players naturally need to pay attention to that segment as well. to what extent does starbucks lead or follow industry movements and to what extent can starbucks maintain its edge as it grows?

I think the specialty coffee industry is very innovative, and I am not sure we are always the leaders. I hope we continue to influence the industry to be more socially and environmentally conscious.

6. is starbucks the next wal-mart? the next mcdonald's?

Starbucks is a unique company, we are like no one else.

7. what's the case for dark roasting coffee?

If you are asking about the Starbucks roast, I think the case is similar to any other roaster, we believe we are roasting coffee to reach the full potential and best flavor that particular bean has. Just like any roaster, it is our opinion of what the optimal flavor is for that coffee.

8. is there an achilles heel for starbucks, either now or in the future? anything that keeps you up at night trying to figure out?

For me that is simple - How can we continue to attract high quality future leaders to our company? Any company is only as great as the employees it has, and our #1 asset is our people. We need to be able to continue to staff our company with great partners who can grow with us.

9. starbucks has been a fairly environmentally friendly company. what are some of the challenges it faces in this respect as it grows? how has it met these challenges?

I think continuing to use our leadership position to have an impact on the coffee industry as a whole is our biggest challenge - to make coffee a sustainable business. C.A.F.E. practices is a huge step in the right direction.
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to be continued....

in part two we discuss starbucks phenomimal growth curve and its prospects for reaching more customers without diluting the message, the inside scoop on howard schultz, killer coffees and a surprise twist at the end as rick turns the interview tables around.

stay tuned.

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