Starbucks has shown support for gay marriage and equal rights in the past. But this weekend, when an investor at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, Washington tried to argue that Starbucks’ support for gay marriage was hurting business, CEO Howard Schultz made it clear that this was an issue he wasn’t going to back down on.
And Schultz is absolutely right not to. Not only does his decisive stance on such a divisive issue demonstrate that the company is brimming with integrity, it also will in the long run help the company’s business. As gay marriage continues to gain more support and acceptance, it is unlikely that the Starbucks CEO's views or the company’s stance will hurt them.
The conversation itself stemmed from the National Organization for Marriage organization’s boycott on Starbucks after the company endorsed Washington state’s bill to legalize gay marriage. At the meeting, Starbucks shareholder Tom Strobhar — who is the founder of the anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion organization Corporate Morality Action Center — had said, "In the first full quarter after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings — shall we say politely — were a bit disappointing.”
Schultz, however, maintained that the company’s decision to endorse gay marriage and show support for equal rights was not vested in profits, but rather the principle of acceptance and diversity.
"If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% 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," he told Strobhar in front of an applauding crowd.
Perhaps if it were 1996, when outwardly supporting gay marriage was a bit taboo, it might have hurt Starbucks to be so vocal in their stance. However, it is 2013. As of now, 49% of the general American public favors the legalization of gay marriage according to the most recent polls. (Some indicate support as high as 58%.) And Schultz’s decision to support and embrace the changes and diversity in society is precisely why endorsing gay marriage won’t hurt Starbucks — or any other company for that matter — but rather will help it.
Moreover, if you narrow the numbers down some more, support among millennials (who are easily Starbuck’s biggest consumers) for gay marriage and equal rights has risen to 70% recently. To believe that they’ll stop buying from a company that supports what they believe is plain silly. It’s the millennials who are fueling the growth for support of gay marriage — and they’re doing it with a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato in hand. I personally don’t think the company has much to worry about out.
And in case you needed another reason to love the company and what it stands for, Schultz summed up Starbucks’ position by stating: "Not every decision is an economic decision."