We all love coffee, heck, I would even go as far to say most of it need coffee to get through our day. But as much as we love coffee, we all have our favorite kind, brand and coffee destination. According to Goudreau (2011) in Forbes’s magazine, Michelle Gass is considered the “secret weapon” of Starbucks coffee. Pioneering the coffee industry, Starbuck’s is leading the market along with Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds new, Mc Café. In response to the economic decline in 2008 and the competition from other coffee brands, for one of the first times Starbucks was at a major collapse in sales. In order to jump-start their astonishing halt in sales, Starbucks Chief Executive, Howard Schultz reached out to marketing manager Michelle Gass to turn things around (Goudreau, 2011).
The three-skill approach depends on three basic personal skills: technical, human and conceptual. According to Northouse (2013), conceptual skills “are the ability to work with ideas and concepts”; they are necessary to creating vision and strategic planning for organizations. Conceptual skills involve having vision in formulating new ideas for the business and “shaping the meaning of organizational and/or policy issues” (Northouse, 2013; 45). Looking back at the example of Michelle Gass’s work for Starbucks, in order to turn business around Michelle helped to “restructure the operation and reinvigorate 137,00 employees in 17,00 stores” (Goudreau, 2011). She filled a very special role for Starbucks with a “transformation agenda” and seven big moves to get Starbucks out of their slump.
Michelle was responsible for both decreasing costs, improving coffee quality and creating new revenue streams. She cut costs by decreasing spending by almost $600 million in costs and closing each café for three hours to save on operating costs (Goudreau, 2011). Michelle improved coffee quality by coining the term “ready brew” for Starbucks instant coffee. Starbucks did a wide array of advertising for their new brand with commercials, free coffee samples and special promotions to Starbucks loyal customers. In addition, Michelle created new revenue streams by buying out Seattle’s Best coffee and partnering with corporations such as Burger King, Subway, supermarkets and Delta Airways (Goudreau, 2011). A short ten months after Michelle Gass was brought into Starbucks, sales rose by 100 million.
Chief Executive Howard Schultz described Michelle as “a courageous leader with a rare combination of business and interpersonal skills” (Goudreau, 2011). Whereas conceptual skills describe the ability to work with ideas and concepts, human skills describe the ability to work with people. In order to be a successful manager, Michelle Gass used both human and conceptual skills. She had to use her people skills to interact with consumers to discover what Starbucks was lacking and how to improve operations. She used her strong interpersonal skills to communicate with team members, management and subordinates to cut costs and improve coffee quality. According to Northouse (2013) career experiences also have an impact on the characteristics and success of leaders. Career experiences can positively affect the individual characteristics and “can influence their knowledge and skills to solve complex problems” (Northouse, 2013; 54). Before becoming the secret weapon of Starbucks, Michelle Gass was recruited by Proctor & Gamble to perform product research. She spent a great deal of time with Proctor and Gamble gaining experience and knowledge within the marketing world before being hired as Starbucks Frappuccino marketing manager.
One of the outcomes of leadership is effective problem solving, with problem solving being the “keystone in the skills approach” (Northouse, 2013). I would say that Michelle’s transformation of Starbucks was both an effective way of solving their problems and also resulted in high company performance. Chief Officer Howard Shultz speaks extremely highly of Michelle, describing her as a successful and smart leader (Goudreau, 2011). Performance of Starbucks improved by 100 million in sales shortly after her being recruited to help. In all, it is leaders such as Michelle Gass that navigate companies to success and pull them out of the weeds with their unique visions, innovative ideas, background and interpersonal skills.
Goudreau, J. (2011).Starbucks Secret Weapon. Forbes Magaine, Forbes Women. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2011/11/02/starbucks-secret-weapon- michelle-gass/#28e60d4c2841
Northouse, Peter G. (Ed.). (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th Ed.).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.