Starbucks Former President: Howard Behar


Howard Behar grew up in North Seattle, attended Roosevelt High School, and struggled to find his way early on in his life.  He took some courses at Everett community college but didn’t finish school because he was directing his energy towards his work.  At the time he was helping run his brother’s furniture store in Edmonds, WA.  He would spend the next couple of decades in the furniture business – eventually becoming president of one of the companies he’d worked for.   Then, when he was in his forties, decided to purchase a business.  As he was searching and networking with people, he met Howard Schultz, who had recently purchased Starbucks.  After getting to know each other, Howard Behar made a proposal to work at Starbucks for free for one week before committing to join.  When Howard Behar first joined Starbucks, it was a regional brand with a few locations – as we chat about in the conversation, he played a critical role in not only expansion across the country, but international expansion all over the world.  Today, Starbucks has a market cap of over $138 billion, employing more than 349,000 people worldwide, with more than 62,000 stores in over 83 countries.

Tune into this episode to get a full look into Howard’s career journey leading up to Starbucks, what challenges and setbacks he faced at Starbucks, and what his advice is for those of us who strive to excel in our careers and live an exceptional life.

Podcast Transcript

Note:  There may be errors to this transcript (some funny, some confusing - we used an automated transcription software!)

Howard Behar  00:00

Great executives don't do that. They say something like, let me think about it for a day or two, and I'll get back to you. And I struggled with that I really went into depression over it. And it caused me to say, I'm never going to go through that again. I'm going to have an answer for who I am and why I am who I am.

Ash Faraj  00:19

Hey, everyone, I'm your host ash, and you're listening to the ExecuTalks podcast. It's the top career podcast featuring inspiring career stories of today's top CEOs, executives, and leaders. But before we get to the show, I thought I'd let you know that this will be our last episode for a while. Over the next few months, I will be working on several awesome projects and lining up conducting and producing interviews for when we will begin republishing fresh stories for you to listen to. In the meantime, my inbox is always open for anyone that wants to connect my email is And I hope to hear from you soon. In this episode, we get to hear from the man behind the global Starbucks brand Howard Behar. Howard grew up in North Seattle attended Roosevelt High School and struggled to find his way early on in his life. He took some courses at Everett community college but didn't finish school because he was directing his energy towards his work. At the time, he was helping run his brother's furniture store in Edmonds. He would spend the next couple of decades in the furniture business, eventually becoming a president of one of the companies he'd worked for. Then, when he was in his 40s decided he wanted to purchase a business. As he was searching and networking with people. He met Howard Schultz, who had recently purchased Starbucks after getting to know each other. Howard Behar made a proposal to work at Starbucks for free for one week before committing to join as president. When Howard Behar first joined Starbucks, it was a regional brand with a few locations. As we chat about in the conversation, he played a critical role in not only the expansion across the country, but international expansion all over the world. Today, Starbucks has a market cap of over $138 billion, employing more than 349,000 people worldwide, with more than 62,000 stores in over 83 countries. stick around till the end to listen to Howard's career journey leading up to Starbucks, what challenges and setbacks he faced at Starbucks and what his advice is for those of us who strive to excel in our lives and live an exceptional life. I am joined today by the former president of Starbucks, Howard, Behar. Welcome to the show. And thank you for being with us today.

Howard Behar  02:23

Thanks, Ash. Thanks for having me.

Ash Faraj  02:25

So the first question we'll start off with is I'm in a high school classroom with you, Howard, who are you in high school?

Howard Behar  02:30

Oh, God, who am I in high school? Barely, barely got out of high school. Not exactly your number one student kind of a middle of the road in terms of popularity. I don't think I would ever been voted most likely to succeed. But then again, I might, I might have been most likely to be happy.

Ash Faraj  02:48

You grew up in Seattle where you grew up.

Howard Behar  02:50

I did. I grew up in Seattle. I grew up in the north end of Seattle, my dad had a small mom and pop grocery store in the Wallingford district and Seattle.

Ash Faraj  02:56

Very cool. And yeah I did see that I read somewhere that your family had a grocery store and you know, you worked in that grocery store as that kid as a kid, what kind of what kind of impact do you feel like that had on you that you kind of still hold today?

Howard Behar  03:08

I mean, it formed the basis of my love for retail and my love for people because it was as a people business. And you know, the people that we call them our customers, but they were our neighbors on our friends. You know, it was one of those, you know, we had charge accounts. Everybody had a charge account. Hardly anybody paid cash. When you come in, they charge my dad had these little books and he he put a slip attached to it. And then once a month a bill, you know, yeah, my dad was, you know, he was a good guy. He was a hard worker, you get up every morning at four o'clock go down to produce row down on, used to be on Western Avenue, produce row and Seattle that by the Pike Place Market and pick up his vegetables and his fruit and bring him back the store, clean it all up and open the store at eight o'clock and close down at six o'clock. And that that was that he did that six days a week wasn't open on Sunday, and then they come home eat his dinner. My dad ate so fast. I mean, if you didn't if you didn't watch out, he was done and gone before he ate your but three bites, you know

Ash Faraj  04:04

what, you know. But speaking of an on topic of you know, your father role models, other than your parents it was there like a particular role model that kind of you feel helped shape your life principles that you carry with you today?

Howard Behar  04:16

Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of them along the way. A lot of people added different pieces to the equation, you know, with probably one significant one, a guy named Jim Jensen, who actually went to Roosevelt High School, but he was three years older than I was and he hired me at a company called Grand Tree furniture rental. So anyway, he hired me and I, he changed my life. He was the one that introduced me to servant leadership with Robert Greenleaf. And Jim was just a is a curious guy. He was always curious about everything. There were so many things I learned from Jim that he taught me to believe in myself taught me that I could be anybody I wanted to be taught me It taught me how I could change habits. Gave me helped me gain the confidence, you know, to do better things and bigger things. I'm still friends with him today.

Ash Faraj  05:02

So what did you do after high school?

Howard Behar  05:05

I went to junior college to Everett community college, I didn't get an AA just, I work during that time, my brother had a furniture store in Edmonds, Washington. And so I would go go there and work and you know, sell furniture, deliver furniture. And after that, you know, I kind of I went to work for a guy in Salem, Oregon. I was 21 years old. First time I ever had a management job, a lead management job, and I managed a small furniture store in Salem, Oregon. And then I ended up my brother and I had a furniture store. Ken Schoenfeld had a number of furniture stores and I worked in one of the stores in Auburn. That's where I was those kind of businesses until I went to work for Levits furniture and Seattle, where they just opened the store down south center. And then I got recruited by to federate department stores to a company called gold key, which was furniture and then Jim Jensen was the guy, recruited me to a guy to a company called grand tree furniture rental in Portland, Oregon. So I spent 25 years in the home furnishings industry, never, you know, never completed college. I was a shitty student to tell you the truth, I learned well, I was a good learner. But I learned by doing on the streets, and I also was a good reader. I like to read biographies and about people that were successful. And that was my life. And then I just I loved retail. And so I stayed in it, you know?

Ash Faraj  06:24

Yeah. Quick side question. What's your favorite by any favorite biographies?

Howard Behar  06:27

Turner, CNN was isn't a first name. I forget. It started turning cnn Turner. Last Name turner.

Ash Faraj  06:34

Yeah, yeah, he's talking about I just don't know.

Howard Behar  06:37

He had a story in there about his dad and that he was really driven by trying to please his dad. I was kind of that way too. I never forget that story. But I love that. I love that book. Robert Greenleaf's work on servant leadership. You he was the one that really coined the phrase. I mean, his all his stuff was fascinating.

Ash Faraj  06:55

Yeah. I also saw that you. Is it true that you you ran a land development company or you work for land?

Howard Behar  07:02

Yeah, it was. Yeah, it was. Basically it was like a timeshare for RV owner service still consumer because we sold the product and service sold the product. I went to that company with the same guy, Jim Johnson after he left grand tree. And he took a few of us with him. And I ran all the operations, we had about 50 resorts around the country, and I ran all of those. And then company got in trouble. And they fire the President and I raised my hand, I said, you know, I'd like to be president, even though I don't have a college degree. Well, I got my MBA there. That's what I got my MBA, right, because the company was in trouble. And you know, I was working 18 hour days trying to figure out how to save it. We were already in the workout group with a bank of Boston. And they were they're taking the cash every day, they deplete the cash in the bank account, and I had to figure out how to survive. I we didn't i didn't make it, but the company survived. And we got sold and, and right after that, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was in my early 40s. And I said, I want to buy a business. I don't want to do this anymore. I want to kind of go on my my family's roots, small business, you know, and, and that's I went out looking for a small business, a lot of that way, I met Howard Schultz, who had just bought Starbucks from you know, he had been an employee at Starbucks and just bought Starbucks. And we met, he was looking for a VP of operations. That was a tiny company that 28 stores and, you know, I didn't pass any mustard. You know, he he wanted someone with a college degree. I didn't have that he wanted somebody in food services didn't have that. Finally we got down to number 10. Can you breathe? Yes, I could breathe, but but I don't really want to go to work for somebody else. And, and I wasn't the right guy for him. And we parted ways. And a year later by accident, we we met up again because of a guy named jack Rogers. He said, We need a guy like you at Starbucks. And I said, Well, I've already been down that path. I still hadn't found a business to buy. I was close but and so I said to Howard, can I work in the company for a week you take a look at me, I'll take a look at you. I'll work for free. You know, I want to work in the storage for a few days a plan for a few days and on his truck for a few days. After that week. I knew it was right for me. And he fortunately extended invitation for you to join rest was kind of history. No, I had no idea it was gonna become what it became ever. I'd have kept all my stock if I had known.

Ash Faraj  09:17

Yeah. So I kind of want to go back to that that kind of phase in your life when you know you. You I think you're around 44 years old. You're in this transitionary phase where you had just failed at a business you loved from what I've read.

Howard Behar  09:30


Ash Faraj  09:32

I think you know, I like to think in pictures. And I imagine you were sitting, you found yourself sitting in a Bellevue Starbucks. You're trying to figure out your next move, like 1989 which is the same year ended up joining Starbucks. So

Howard Behar  09:45

It was actually 88 when I was doing that sitting in that in the Starbucks Bellevue store,

Ash Faraj  09:50

88 yeah.  So my question is like, how when did you first meet Howard like what because we Was it was it during those times like he would come in the store? I mean, like, how did the relationship with how

Howard Behar  10:04

I had Jeff, you know who Jeff Brotman is? Or was

Ash Faraj  10:08

Jeff Rogers?

Howard Behar  10:09

is one of the cofounders of Costco.

Ash Faraj  10:12


Howard Behar  10:12

Jeff was a friend of mine. And Jeff was on Howard's board. And I had a cousin that was an investor in Starbucks a guy named hudsey gorelick who was an investor, and he was also on a board. And I was talking to Jeff and trying to figure out if there was anything we could do together, because Jeff was always investing in entrepreneurial deals. And he said, you know, you gotta meet Howard, there might be something there for you. And so I did and Jeff and I kind of grown up together. So I knew him real well I knew Jeff's dad better actually, than I know, Jeff. That's how I met Howard. That was in 88 And a year later, I joined Starbucks and when I joined it was just a turn, right. Instead of turning left instead of buying a business, I went to work for guy, but I made it my business. You know, it was it matter to me as much as it mattered to Howard two Howard's you know, go figure,

Ash Faraj  10:59


Howard Behar  11:01

h2o. That's right.

Ash Faraj  11:02

Yeah. So my question is what made you kind of like, make that commitment to Starbucks long term? Because I'm putting myself in your shoes. I'm looking to buy a business A year later, haven't bought a business? What made you decide? Was it that, you know, you and Howard, you believed in Howard, you believe in Starbucks? Like, what was it that like you made you actually commit?

Howard Behar  11:23

Well, you know, I had gotten that business was able to get the deal done, I'd looked at two or three things and, and I had kids college or getting ready to go to college, you know, I needed to work I didn't have I was not wealthy, I didn't have any money, hardly any. And I always was a believer. And because my lack of a college degree, I always thought that I had to take more risks than the average guy would have to take. And Howard and I sat down and, you know, we we talked through values and what what mattered to us and we really meshed up on those in that area. You know, when I was sitting in that Starbucks, I was writing out a piece of paper on how I wanted to run my business. You know, I wanted everybody to have equity, Howard wanted everybody to have equity. I wanted everybody to get be able to vote in their area of expertise. I wanted everybody to be able to vote. I call it the person who sweeps the floor should chooses the broom, you know, and so we're going down the list, and we just met mashed up. And I didn't know until I worked in a company for that week to tell you the truth. That gave me a lot of insight. I was in a plant. I was talking to everybody, you know, and they wondered who the hell I was. And I was not nobody, you know. But so I was in there packing coffee bags for Costco, I was on the trucks delivering coffee. And I was working on the store. You know, it had a soul, right? I identified with it. And I'm there. And I said to myself when I was there, this isn't about coffee. It's about people, because I saw the things were going on in the stores. And it was really a people intense business, you know, and that was retail so it fit me, you know, and after that first week, I said, I can do this, this is right place for me and it fit me perfectly. It was It couldn't have been a better fit. It was people intensive. And I loved coffee. I was an avid coffee drinker. I've been a customer for 17 years with Starbucks before I joined. I'm an avid coffee drinker. So it just fit me and it was retail. It was perfect. I understood what it took to make retail work. I understood how to make profit. And I understood that, that it was always about people.

Ash Faraj  13:24

I read a story that after you joined Starbucks, you and Howard, you know the other, the other Howard went to Chicago to pitch investors. But during that time, Starbucks was kind of wasn't you know, doing well. It was kind of from what I've read

Howard Behar  13:38

Yeah we weren't

Ash Faraj  13:40

Yeah. And you know, as I guess, as you were trying to raise more money, you told Howard that you would move to Chicago and not leave until you had you know, quote, unquote, gotten it right. Tell us a little bit about that point in time, like, Well, how do you how do you remember feeling because that must have been, you know,

Howard Behar  13:53

Well, I had been with the company a few months. And finally I got all the data, you know, you don't get all the information before you join. And I looked at Chicago and it was bleeding. Right? And we're trying to raise money and a venture people were saying, Well, okay, it works in Seattle, but it isn't working in Chicago. So this is not exportable. And and so I said, Well, I got to figure it out. So I just said to Howard, I said, I'm going and I packed my bag. It was like late September, early October, and I and I went there. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And I stayed there. I was there november december got colder than hell, I didn't even have an overcoat I got as sick as I've ever been. Right. Fortunately, I had a friend that would bring me chicken soup while I was trying to recover. And I was you know, I rented a hotel room with a little kitchenette, you know, and I was two blocks from the biggest store. We had an oak and rush. And I just stay there trying to figure out what the issue was. I started to realize that the people were asking exactly the same kind of questions that they're asking in Seattle, and they were responding the same way the problem was that you weren't enough of them. And I came to the conclusion that well, there were two issues. One, our prices were too low, because our rents and our labor costs were a lot higher in Chicago than they were in Seattle. So I said, we got to raise our prices. And the second thing I realized we didn't have enough storage guy was too big a city to have a few stores, you know, he had to have 20 stores meet people, maybe maybe more before people even knew who you were. So I advocated for more stores and, and so we started to get traction raise prices that helped. And so then it started to perform and then it took off. I always believe that you got to be on the ground. You don't do those things from a distance you don't do those you gotta go do it. And you know it, you got to do it yourself. You got to sweep the floor yourself, you got to clean the bathroom serve the customer. You got to smell it. You got to feel it. You know?

Ash Faraj  15:48

Yeah, no, that's that's kind of a big part of you know, who you are as a servant leader is not just kind of sitting in the office, if you will.

Howard Behar  15:57


Ash Faraj  15:57

so so that you also when you move to Chicago, did you took your family with, you

Howard Behar  16:02


Ash Faraj  16:02


Howard Behar  16:03

No I just went

Ash Faraj  16:04

Oh, wow.

Howard Behar  16:05

Yeah, I left everybody behind. Yeah, my wife said, You're going where for how long?

Ash Faraj  16:09

When you obviously when you joined Starbucks was just a regional company. I think there was 20 something stores. And there was a certain point in time when you suggested that, you know, hey, we should expand to Europe and Asia? Did you? What kind of pushback Did you receive when you suggested that, if any at all?

Howard Behar  16:27

Well, I got a lot of pushback from the board. Because if we still got a lot of room in the US, why don't we want to get going. I said, because our business model is too easy to copy speed is going to be of the essence it was that's what was proving out to be right in the United States, that whoever got there first and got, you know, the most market penetration first was going to be the winner. I mean, not true always because we had, after a while we had staying power, you know, and we could do things that other companies couldn't do you know. And so I said, if we're going to, if we're going to really go, we've got to, we got to get gone internationally. So I put the business plan together. And I knew that they weren't going to just believe me. So I went to Bain consulting, and I said, I need some help. And I got Bain on the cheap because they figured someday they get a lot of business at Starbucks, which they actually did. So for 50 Grand i you know, you don't get anything from Bain for 50 grand. And we put together the business plan. Our first plan was to go to Asia and the UK simultaneously. And I went and presented to the Board. And they said, you can't do both pick one or the other. And so I picked Asia Pacific because we're Seattle is a Pacific Rim city, and I traveled both places tried to get a feel, you know. And so I had gone to Japan first because I thought Japan would be the first best first market, because they already had somewhat of a coffee culture, even though people thought they only drank tea, but they had a strong coffee culture. And so I made that pitch and, and that's where we went first. It proved to be the correct decision. Because it we've done a lot better and in Asia Pacific than we have ever done in Europe.

Ash Faraj  18:06

Yeah, I also read that at one point you chose to expand into in Indonesia. And this is I'm not sure which specific part This was but you chose to expand in Indonesia with the biggest department store chain. And then you also chose to expand with a partner that had a good chunk of real estate in Singapore.

Howard Behar  18:23

That was in Singapore. Yeah.

Ash Faraj  18:24

Singapore. Yes. So Indonesia. And from an outsider's perspective perspective, like when I think about that scenario or situation, I'm thinking, Man, that sounds awesome. You know, what, what could ever go wrong? Yeah, but things did go wrong. What happened?

Howard Behar  18:39

Yeah, everything is about people. And I had this list of criteria that that we drawn up of who we wanted to do business with. We got that wrong in Indonesia, and, and Singapore, you know, there's an old story about the CEO of Sony, who said before you do a deal, take it and crumple it up and swallow it. If it doesn't give you indigestion you go ahead with it. The Singapore one gave me indigestion. But I want to head with it anyway. Because the guy had great real estate, he already had the Burger King franchise. And these were joint venture partnerships, you know, and but he was a jerk, you know, he said all the right things. And I had a warning sign and I ignored the warning sign, it was all my fault.

Ash Faraj  19:21

What was the warning sign?

Howard Behar  19:23

The warning sign was his nephew who was going to be part of the deal. And he said, watch out for this guy. His nephew said that to me, as a but I was so far along in the negotiations on the deal. And I said, I'm gonna ignore that. And I went ahead with it. It took us eight years to get the guy out. The guy was destroying the business. As soon as we got him out, the business turned around, and we started to grow fast again. And it was it he was just the bad guy. In Indonesia they weren't such bad guys. They just they just don't know how to manage it. And so we got them out to that was much easier to get them out. We just bought them out and they got out and those two countries have done really Well since

Ash Faraj  20:00

yeah, I guess, obviously hindsight is 2020. But when you look back, you know, when I say what went wrong, obviously it's you chose the wrong partner. But what other signs I guess what I'm what I'm trying to take away from this is like, How can you tell? If so if somebody can be a good partner or not be a good partner, like, what are the one

Howard Behar  20:21

you have to do research. reason I fell in a trap in Singapore is a guy that was the vice chair of Bank of America, right? Who I knew very well said, This guy is fantastic. I checked him out. I wasn't like, I didn't check them out. I went and we went to that market for two weeks. And we went to all his Burger King stores, we talked to people, and he had fantastic real estate. I mean, it was great real estate. And I got this great recommendation from the guy at Bank of America. Well, I should have known he's a banker. You know, bankers aren't about people. You know, they're about money, usually. But that's a broad generalization. I don't mean that. Exactly. There are a lot of great bankers. But anyway, and I just fell into the trap, and you know, shame on me. You know, I got uncomfortable I did it anyway. And truth is we made as I look back at our history, I made three bad decisions. Australia, wrong partner, Singapore, and Indonesia, Australia we've never really recovered. It's going and we have a they have a partner there now. I don't know. I think 711 guys, but we missed the market. Australia should have been a franchise market. We should all done for it. But we weren't a franchising company. So, you know, how do you we weren't about to change our model at that point in time. That hurt us in Australia. But now Yeah, pretty much. Those are the three and Israel would be the other one that could made a bad choice. I didn't do that one. But, but that was a bad choice.

Ash Faraj  21:51

Yeah, there's a famous quote, it's like the you either you either succeed, or you learn there's no failing, I guess.

Howard Behar  21:57

Yeah, right. That's right. So we learn.

Ash Faraj  22:00

So I guess the other question about this is, you know, what, what was that breakthrough moment for international expansion? The moment was there a moment that you ever thought that man, this is going to be a global company with 1000s of stores when you guys first started expanding?

Howard Behar  22:13

Yeah, I'll tell you what it was. It was when we opened in Japan. We were there the first day. And it was a store in the Ginza district in Japan, which if you haven't ever been there, it's the big shopping district in Tokyo, and very high rents and what they call key money. You had to pay a million dollars, just get the lease.

Ash Faraj  22:30

And that was, that was the first store By the way, right?

Howard Behar  22:33

That was the first store. So we're there at nine o'clock, and we were there about seven o'clock in the morning. No customers 8 o'clock. No customers. at nine o'clock. No customers. Finally 10 o'clock, two customers show up. So I rushed into the store to buy that first two customers their drink. And I welcomed on they're both Japanese. But they were Japanese Americans. They're two guys from Seattle. So I started a laugh I so of course, the first two customers would have would be two, two guys from Seattle. By 11 o'clock that day, the line went around the block. And it didn't stop until we kept the store up until two o'clock in the morning, the line never stopped. And we never look back. I don't know how many stores are now probably a couple 1000. So that was a big sign. And then at the same time, then we went Singapore which was successful at the beginning, you know, which was a second market than Taiwan. Taiwan was a blowout success. It just they all took off very quickly, because Asian markets are quick to absorb the US concepts. What we bought a company in London called Seattle Coffee Company, and Seattle Coffee Company. There was Ellie and Scott Svenson, who own mod pizza now in the Seattle area. Anyway, they had Seattle coffee, and we bought that and they had a licensing agreement with a guy in Kuwait. Mohammad Al Shi'a, so you know we met with Muhammad. And we decided we were going to go ahead with him. And he did and he expanded into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and to Lebanon and to Egypt in and to Turkey, which was a blowout success. You'd never guessed that we do so well in Turkey. And a guy was just I mean, he was who figured Turkey. I mean, Turkish coffee. Are you kidding me? But we just I mean, we've we've done amazingly well, all throughout the Middle East except for Israel, what country? You know, of course, Howard and I are both Jewish. What country when we fail in Israel, right. Now, when Japan took off, like it took off, it was just amazing. And we are making money right out of the gate.

Ash Faraj  24:31

So, you know, I guess 2009 I believe is when you decided to retire. Yeah. For you personally. How did you know was the right time, you know, to move on from Starbucks and retire.

Howard Behar  24:42

I was actually 1999 the first time I retire. My wife was I said when you get your PhD, I wasn't trying to retire. But I had promised her when she finished her PhD. She will take a year off and we'll go travel. So I thought I'd take her 8 10 years. You know what person gets her PhD including their dissertation done in five years? Nobody except for my wife. And so I made a commitment. And I said to Howard and Orin I said, I made a commitment. I want to take a year off. And then we'll see what happens. And they said, Fine, no problem. And so I did. And we hired somebody to replace me. And I was still on the board at that time. I stayed on the board. So I, we did we traveled. And so I'm back. And it's I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life. I said, I wasn't gonna go back to Starbucks, I was still on the board. I didn't need to, yeah, I had money in my pocket. By that point in time, when I started, Starbucks had no money in my pocket, and September 11 2001, right, all hell breaks loose. And the guy that was the president of Starbucks, North America resigned abruptly, just out of the blue. Here's a guy that was impatient. He was waiting for Orin to leave his job as CEO, so he could get it. And that wasn't going to happen on the timeframe he wanted to. And that day, he resigned or that week, he resigned. And so, you know, he left his people in the lurch. I mean, it was really something. And so I was on the board. And Howard and Orin asked me if I could come back for a while. And they said, of course, and so I did. And it was supposed to be for three months ended up being in for two years. And I was running north america again, you know, and that was a challenge for me it was it was we had a lot of stores by then I kind of lost faith in myself a little bit. I, I thought that was bigger. And I thought maybe I just don't know how to do it. And my wife said to me, do what you know how to do. And that's what I did, which was focus on people, again, make sure that people were getting to where they need to be. And I was always a goal setter. And I, the team had turned turn from a we organization to a me organization. They're, the individuals on the team are more worried about where they were going and where they were, that the company was gone. And I said, That's got to change. And I started talking to people, and I started setting some goals that they had to work on together, and it pissed a bunch of them off, right, my son was working for the company. At the time, he said, You're pitting each rep, you're pitting us against each other. I said, Yes, I am a little bit. But each of us got to perform, and the ones that perform, are going to get the resource, and the ones that are not aren't, and so we did, and we change the trajectory of the company again and turn it back into a we organization. And I stayed for those almost three years. And we had somebody recruit me, and then I stayed on the board for another five years. And then I retired completely.

Ash Faraj  27:17

Wow, okay, I didn't know that part. So you, you know, you have one of your principles, or you know, you have 10 principles of leadership. One of them is where one hat. Right?

Howard Behar  27:26


Ash Faraj  27:26

that's what you kind of referring to is your hat is about the people, right?

Howard Behar  27:30

Yeah, what who you are as a person. It's not the jobs you do with a lot of people say, Well, I wear multiple hats, you know, particularly my wife, she says, I got to clean the house to get to do today, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the hat that defines who you are as a human being, and what you stand for, what your values are, which you want to leave behind in this world. And so my hat is about serving people. And I always was that and my values were very strong. And I lived according to my values. And I had them written down, I had what I call my six P's, which are how I do everything in my life. And I had my mission statement. And I and I, and I was a goal setter, I'd have a five year plan written down. My wife and I actually did that together. We had a family five year plan, and we had individual five year plans underneath that five year plan. And that really drove my life I still do it today. I'm 77 years old, I still got a plan.

Ash Faraj  28:22

So where's where's Howard going to be five years from now?

Howard Behar  28:24

Howard's going to be five years from now? Well, I hope I'm still standing. I'm still gonna hopefully still do be doing a post every day on LinkedIn, and Twitter, I'm still gonna be talking about servant leadership. And still gonna be pushing those ideas, and getting people to understand that that's what really works. autocratic leadership really doesn't work over the long term, helping people to grow and to be all they can be and achieve their results, we'll help you do that. The same thing for yourself. And the most important person you're ever going to have to lead in your life is you, everything begins with you, you got to know where you're going, you got to know what you stand for. There's no role any of us have in our lives. It isn't about serving people, nothing. I don't care what your job is, I don't care what your title is, doesn't make any difference. What you do is always to have a fulfilling life. You got to have some purpose. Right? It doesn't have to be grandiose, it just needs to get you up in the morning, you know, and if you have a purpose that's greater than yourself, right, which is my number one, my number one P has a purpose greater than myself, then then, you know, you may get tired but you don't burn out.

Ash Faraj  29:30

Yeah, I love that's that's really powerful advice. You know, you say in your book, that there is a large gap between the wisdom of knowing what's right, versus the wisdom to do what's right. I thought that was kind of can you expand on that a little bit? Because, you know,

Howard Behar  29:45

well, because there's these inherent conflicts that you have to be able to deal with that ambiguity. Yeah, they're not binary knowing what's right and doing what's right is difficult. Do the right thing that what's right for your resume right, yeah, doing what's right is hard because we have fears, you can know what's right. But let's say you got a fear that you're gonna make a mistake might lose your job, then you lose your job, you won't be able to feed your family and then everybody will die. You know, that's how we go in life, right? We get take our fears to obscene extremes, right? You know, most of us know what's right away, we know what's right. But we have these fears inside a fear of doing it. Because we don't know what the outcome is gonna be. We're just, we're not sure. And you just got to be able to take those risks.

Ash Faraj  30:34

You know, you also say that, that part of our job as humans, is to kind of discover our quote unquote, truth, right?

Howard Behar  30:40


Ash Faraj  30:41

to tap into our passions, tap into our strengths. The next logical question is like, what's the best method for someone to go out to go about discovering the truth? So if I want to do this?

Howard Behar  30:51

Well, first, you got to start with who you are, what your values are? Right? What are the values that you want to drive your life and that you want to drive your life. And, you know, I mean, a simple exercise. And that's how I did it was I, you know, I got a book with 300 words that represented human values, the goal was to get it down to eight to 10 core values, hard to do. So I got a 250. And then it took me a long time to get it down to eight. It doesn't that there aren't 100 other words that might apply somewhat to your life. But these eight to 10 are core to you. Right, that that you want to live your life by. And so like my first core value is honesty. I wanted to be an honest person, I wanted to tell you, at least my truth, people could depend that I would never smoke them the I wouldn't steal, I wouldn't you know, so I define my core values. And then after the core value, values, just a word until you define us. So if I asked you, what what does honesty mean to you? How would you define honesty for yourself? Or if you ask 100 people, you might get different definitions honesty, like what what would ash tell a white lie about? I know what Howard would tell a white lie about my wife asked me to these dresses, my 80s dresses make my butt look big. I have learned to never say Honey, you know? Yeah, that one does, because I don't know which stretch he really likes, right? Yeah, so I've learned to watch that. But if somebody asked me a personal question, I gave him an answer. You have to define what each of those values mean to you, and how they inform the decisions and actions you take in your life. And then, and then you've got to create some kind of mission for yourself, but what a greater purpose for yourself, why are you here? What are you here to leave behind. And remember, all this stuff is written in pencil, you can change it at any time you want. But you got to have something to give yourself and your life direction. You know, otherwise, like I said, if you don't know where you're going, anything else will get you in. And that's how most people live their lives. Right, they just travel along travel along, you know, those things drive me and then I, I created what I call my six P's, these were these were the way I wanted to do everything in my life, the first p everything I do in my life has to be with a purpose greater than myself. If I have a purpose greater than myself, then a darnwell better be passionate about. The third one is persistence. Nothing you get in life comes without being persistent. And the fourth p is patience. It seems like it's opposite of persistence, but it is not. Patience matters. You know, not everything comes in the timeframe you want it to come. And particularly when you're dealing with other people, not everybody is at the same speed or wavelength you are and it takes other people sometimes when you're leading a group to have them come along, and you've got to have time, unless you've got a fire in the building, that you don't have patients, then you yell at everybody get out, but 99% of the things that we do in life, you know, it doesn't they don't come at the time we want and then the fifth p is performance. We're all we're all getting measured all the time. Like it or not, we get measured by our friends we get measured by parents we get measured by our spouses. You know, I don't know if you have a spouse or significant other whether you like it or not, you're getting measured buster, that's the way it is.

Ash Faraj  32:42

That's true. That's true.

Howard Behar  33:58

Yeah, that's absolutely true. And we're measuring them and then the most important P is is people everything we do in life is about serving another human being and you just have to remember that that in a nutshell drives my life and then and then set goals you know, set goals have a plan for your life, we add headings spirituality, material, family, marriage, and I have goals in each of those areas of what I want to do in the next three to five years get five years starting to get optimistic, you know, when you're 77 you know, but but I'm going to stay with it anyway if I don't complete it fine

Ash Faraj  34:35

Yeah, you there's no other way than optimism I mean, you know, what's the point?

Howard Behar  34:38


Ash Faraj  34:39

So you have these 10 principles of personal leadership right?

Howard Behar  34:42


Ash Faraj  34:42

I'm learning them real quick so know who you are know why you're here think independently build trust listen for the truth be accountable. Take action face challenge, practice leadership dare to dream Right. Which which principle? Which principle Do you feel in today's world is most overlooked or not appreciated enough and why?

Howard Behar  35:00

Wearing your hat. If I went and gave a speech to 2000 or 1000 people, and I said, here's what you need to do to have a fulfilling life, you need to define who you are as a human being, you need to figure out where you're going. You need to set goals, you need to have some principles that guide your life. 2% of the people do it.

Ash Faraj  35:20


Howard Behar  35:22

Most people just live their lives. They if you don't write it down, you're not committed, you know that. It's just wishes, hopes and dreams. If you're writing it down, and you got to look at and you review it all the time, right? And say, Where are you and evaluate your performance based on all of those things, where most people just don't. And then they wake up one morning, and they're 65 years old, and they say what the hell happened? I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish in my life. I struggled to believe in myself in my early years. And, you know, I don't sit here and say, Man, what isn't I great? I've disappointed in a lot of things about my life. But for the most part, I had a plan.

Ash Faraj  36:01

And I guess, you know, going back to the 2% thing, you know, maybe there's kind of a philosophical, why do you think people don't take action? I mean, what do you what do you think that it is that hold people back in your opinion,

Howard Behar  36:12

fear of failure if you start to set a plan, or if you have values and you write them down, and you have and you hold yourself accountable to them? A lot of people just don't like looking in the mirror.

Ash Faraj  36:23

So it's more like fear, fear of accountability for

Howard Behar  36:26

accountability, performance. Tell me how I don't know where you work, which is everybody, like how many people like performance reviews?

Ash Faraj  36:33

Most people don't like performance reviews.

Howard Behar  36:35

Everybody hates them. Right. They're worthless. You know, I mean, nobody likes to be, you know, judged. Yet, we have to do it for ourselves. We have to be brutally honest with ourselves, hard for people to do hard for all of us. Sometimes it's hard for me sometimes, you know,

Ash Faraj  36:51

so that's the most important one know who you are, is is the most important, okay.  Something I look for when I decide to partner with someone or hire someone is

Howard Behar  37:04

are they humble? Well, this is how I judge when I pick a piece of paper up off the floor. If they walk down the street, and there's a cup sitting on the street on the sidewalk? Do they bend over and pick it up? Or do they walk by that?

Ash Faraj  37:17

When I first thought, I was like, how do they treat a waiter or waitress too

Howard Behar  37:21

Yeah, yeah, it's the little things that tells you everything about the person,

Ash Faraj  37:24

the most important quality and a leader is,

Howard Behar  37:27

I would say vulnerability, authenticity and humbleness,

Ash Faraj  37:30

something that has helped me get past my fears and insecurities in my past have been

Howard Behar  37:35

other people, there was a book that I got called the magic of believing written by a man named Claude Bristol. It's been out of print for one time, I think it was written in 20, or 30. This is a strange story, but, but I was unhappy in my marriage. And, and this was my first marriage. And I just couldn't figure out a way out. And somebody gave me this book and the book, basically, it had a chapter in it, where our fears, guess what get get us. And it said, Imagine yourself making this decision. Just imagine all the possible worst things that can happen. And if you can live with the worst thing that could happen, right, then you're okay, you can make you can make the decision, and it takes you through, you know, I'm gonna lose my job, my family's gonna starve that everybody will die. And I'll die, you know. And that's not what happens in life. And it took me through that. And I realized that I can pretty much get through anything, that one little book, The magic of believing you got to believe that you can get through it all.

Ash Faraj  38:31

And I imagined that, you know, Howard Schultz, he kind of because you said that, you know, he was kind of like a real believer. He was like a dreamer. He believed everything was possible. And he made it Yeah, right away.

Howard Behar  38:41

Yeah. It was, you know, there's one word that describes every entrepreneur I've ever met persistence. And Howard has that in double spades.

Ash Faraj  38:50

Something I've personally struggled with as a leader has been

Howard Behar  38:54

managing my intensity and my emotions. I'm a highly charged emotional guy. I have a temper that goes, right comes down, I acknowledge it I on this stuff, but but I get carried away.

Ash Faraj  39:06

Yeah, I  feel you on that. Because when the highs get really high low is going to really

Howard Behar  39:11

yeah, right.

Ash Faraj  39:12

Something I personally do to make sure I feel positive and stay productive is

Howard Behar  39:17

I look at my values. And my mission statement, my six P's every day,

Ash Faraj  39:23

every day,

Howard Behar  39:24

every single day.

Ash Faraj  39:25

If I were to go back and talk to my younger self in my mid 20s, I would tell myself,

Howard Behar  39:31

tell myself, you're capable of anything. I want to take this question and change it because I want to say, here's what I would have done earlier.

Ash Faraj  39:39


Howard Behar  39:39

I wouldn't have I would have worked on who I was figuring out who I was. Starting in high school, I would have figured out who I was, I would have to start writing out a mission statement, I would have had more direction. And I would have understood who I was. And even though I could have written it all in pencil and change things along the way. I'd have had more direction in my life. It A long time before I really got to the point where I really believe in myself

Ash Faraj  40:04

one setback or failure in my early 20s that I will never forget is

Howard Behar  40:08

it was more the setback which caused, by the way, my writing down my values, I was I went to work for a company called grand tree furniture rental. And remember, I don't have a degree, and I got promoted to be VP. And the chairman of the board and CEO came by and that little three letter word, there's something I'd like to talk to you about. I've I've noticed you always have your heart on your sleeve. And if you want to be a great executive, you don't want to show you don't want to show that stuff. And he said, the other thing I've noticed is that you're always willing to share your opinion, great executives don't do that. They say something like, let me think about it for a day or two. And I'll get back to you. And I struggled with that I really went into depression over it. And it caused me to say I'm never going to go through that again. I'm going to have an answer for who I am and why I am who I am.

Ash Faraj  40:58

It's that's what we learn most is when we kind of have those setbacks when we learn.

Howard Behar  41:02


Ash Faraj  41:02

on a more positive note, the sweetest moment that I remember I felt in my entire career was when,

Howard Behar  41:08

when one of the people that report and we went on and became president of another company. They surpassed me.

Ash Faraj  41:15

Wow, who was that?

Howard Behar  41:17

Was a woman named Christine Day who became CEO of Lululemon.

Ash Faraj  41:22

If I could be remembered for just one thing, it would be

Howard Behar  41:26

nurturing and inspiring the human spirit.

Ash Faraj  41:28

If I were stranded on an island and had access to one meal, it would be

Howard Behar  41:31

no question about it pizza. I love pizza.

Ash Faraj  41:38

Thank you so so much for listening to this episode. If you haven't already, please, please leave us a quick rating and review on Apple podcasts so we can gather your feedback. It helps us make sure that we're bringing you the best stories in the best content. Thank you so much for being a listener. I hope we get to connect to take care.

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