From the Ground Up

A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the longtime CEO and chairman of Starbucks, a bold, dramatic work about the new responsibilities that leaders, businesses, and citizens share in American society today—as viewed through the intimate lens of one man’s life and work. 

What do we owe one another? How do we channel our drive, ingenuity, even our pain, into something more meaningful than individual success? And what is our duty in the places where we live, work, and play?

These questions are at the heart of the American journey. They are also ones that Howard Schultz has grappled with personally since growing up in the Brooklyn housing projects and while building Starbucks from eleven stores into one of the world’s most iconic brands.

In From the Ground Up, Schultz looks for answers in two interwoven narratives. One story shows how his conflicted boyhood—including experiences he has never before revealed—motivated Schultz to become the first in his family to graduate from college, then to build the kind of company his father, a working-class laborer, never had a chance to work for: a business that tries to balance profit and human dignity.

A parallel story offers a behind-the-scenes look at Schultz’s unconventional efforts to challenge old notions about the role of business in society. From health insurance and free college tuition for part-time baristas to controversial initiatives about race and refugees, Schultz and his team tackled societal issues with the same creativity and rigor they applied to changing how the world consumes coffee.

Throughout the book, Schultz introduces a cross-section of Americans transforming common struggles into shared successes. In these pages, lost youth find first jobs, aspiring college students overcome the yoke of debt, post-9/11 warriors replace lost limbs with indomitable spirit, former coal miners and opioid addicts pave fresh paths, entrepreneurs jump-start dreams, and better angels emerge from all corners of the country.

From the Ground Up is part candid memoir, part uplifting blueprint of mutual responsibility, and part proof that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. At its heart, it’s an optimistic, inspiring account of what happens when we stand up, speak out, and come together for purposes bigger than ourselves. Here is a new vision of what can be when we try our best to lead lives through the lens of humanity.

“Howard Schultz’s story is a clear reminder that success is not achieved through individual determination alone, but through partnership and community. Howard’s commitment to both have helped him build one of the world’s most recognized brands. It will be exciting to see what he accomplishes next.”—Bill Gates

Under the Cover

An excerpt from From the Ground Up

The stairwell was where I went to escape.
Most people in the apartment building used the elevator, unless it broke down. Even when it did, no one walked up the steps that led to the roof. So that’s where I sat.
On some days Billy, my best friend, joined me. But mostly I sat alone when things got too chaotic at home. My bedroom, which overlooked a parking lot, wasn’t an option—I shared it with my younger sister and brother—and our apartment was so small and my parents’ voices so loud that even under my bedsheets I couldn’t escape. But sitting on those steps, I felt safe. That place was my refuge. An urban nest.
The stairwell wasn’t quiet. I could still hear people arguing, or heavy doors slamming shut, or the thunder of other kids pounding up or down the steps on lower floors. Noise bounced off the hollow hallways’ concrete walls and echoed in my ears. But in that stairwell I found some peace. And while sometimes I cried, I mostly thought about playing basketball, or the Yankees—and the possibility of my becoming a switch hitter like Mickey Mantle. As I got older I sat on those steps and fantasized about leaving home, trying to picture life beyond the borders of childhood. Images were hard to summon but I knew what I wanted to feel. I wanted to shed the anxiety that could ripple through me when I turned the doorknob to apartment 7G.
I was three years old when we moved into the cramped two-bedroom apartment in the Bayview housing projects in Canarsie, located on a swath of former swampland on the southeastern edge of Brooklyn. In 1956, my family was one of more than one thousand low-income households that qualified to live in the freshly baked brick buildings constructed by the New York City Housing Authority. It was a new alternative to the decaying city slums. Projects like Bayview were not designed to be dead ends, but to jump-start lives. I wasn’t so sure what that meant for me. Over the years, my mom tried to instill in me the notion that there was something better beyond Canarsie and within my reach, but it was hard to see. What I did see, every day, was my dad, who spent so much time lying on our couch that my mother nicknamed him Mr. Horizontal. The scent of his malaise and frustration—with himself, with us, with bosses I never met, with a system I didn’t understand—seeped into the fabric of our family’s life.
In the stairwell, I created a little distance between me and the suffocating air of home. Sitting on the cold, hard steps shrouded in dim light, I felt some peace. But I struggled to see past the concrete walls around me.
Canarsie, Brooklyn, was, and still is, the last stop on the L train from New York City. As I sat in the stairwell, the idea of what might lie beyond my small world began to take shape in my imagination.
Throughout my life I have been haunted, and fueled, by childhood memories. From my father, I saw what can happen to a life when a person’s dignity is stripped away. From my mother, I was imprinted with the belief that the last stop on the train was not going to be the last stop in my life—that I could work and learn and plan and dream my way out of the place I was born into.
The juxtaposing forces of a father who had less than he wanted and a mother who wanted more for her son spurred me, eventually, to imagine a different future for myself. To see my world not as it was, but as it could be. This became a lifetime habit. And in some ways, that’s the story I’ve tried to tell in this book: how we can all reimagine a better future by learning from the past with as much clarity and wisdom as we can muster, and by summoning the will and doing the work to bring that future into being. This has been my life’s journey.
The stairwell was the first place where my imagination took flight, but not the last. When I began my own business in the mid-1980s, I was inspired by old, even ancient, influences: coffee, which has been consumed for centuries, as well as the human need for connection and community, which is embedded in our DNA. I envisioned a different way to bring those things together: Starbucks stores. When I opened my first espresso bars, I wanted to create places where people could escape the chaos of the day and feel a sense of belonging. More than forty years later, going to Starbucks has become routine and respite for millions of people across more than seventy-seven countries. Not home, not work, Starbucks stores have become known as a “third place.”
For me, the idea of a “third place” is not just something that exists between four walls. It is a mind-set. A way to exist in the world. That’s why I set out to build a profitable business that also expressed a core ethos: that people of all kinds can come together and uplift one another.
In that respect, aspects of the Starbucks journey reflect aspects of the American journey. Not because the country is a business, but because the business of the country has always been a constant struggle to balance the seemingly competing priorities of humanity and prosperity. I fiercely believe that Starbucks attempts to be a different kind of company—one that my own father, a working class laborer, never had a chance to work for—are worth sharing at this fragile yet auspicious moment in our country’s history, when truth and dignity need to make a thunderous comeback.
In a sense, these pages are less about Starbucks and my childhood than about the place in which we were both born: the United States of America. The intertwined narratives of my youth and my final years at Starbucks tell a bigger story. It’s a story about reinvention and renewal. About possibilities. About the power of people to change the lives of others as well as their own. It’s a story about what we can do for ourselves and for each other, as well as the responsibility we all have to reimagine our shared future. And reimagine we must.
Ideals that our nation was founded on, including equality and liberty for all, have yet to be fully realized. In some corners, their very existence is being threatened. The continuation of American democracy also is not a foregone conclusion. In fact, the American Dream that I have lived and still believe in—the notion that everyone should have an equal opportunity to rise from the ground up—is at a crossroads. More people need to have a fair chance at their dreams, however humble or ambitious those dreams may be, and now is the time to talk about what those chances might look like for everyone. Together, we have the potential to reimagine and deliver on the promise of our country, as I hope this book reveals.
Ultimately, I wrote From the Ground Up because I am optimistic about the future and I wanted to share what I’ve learned from the past. While not a memoir, it is an honest reflection about how my earliest experiences—some of which I’ve never made public until now—pervaded and informed the life I led once I got out of the stairwell and headed west, beyond everything I knew, in search of what I imagined was possible. And while this is also not a business book, it is a behind-the-scenes exploration of one business’s journey to try to answer a vital question of our time: What can we do to effect meaningful change and create the just, fair, and secure future we all desire?
I hope From the Ground Up will spark something in you, perhaps even inspire a movement, to embrace all that is right with our country, face what needs to be fixed, and discover how we might use our vast resources and individual assets in new ways to lift ourselves and one another to greater heights. Not just by deploying our money, time, and voices, but by unleashing expertise, ingenuity, influence, empathy, social networks, collaborative spirit, courage, technologies, as well as transforming our common physical and virtual spaces into places where people can connect with civility and respect. None of us exists in isolation. Healthy, happy communities rely on the interdependence of their members. We are in this together.
Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond what’s in front of us, especially when chaos clouds the view. The will and ability to reimagine the future is at the heart of this country’s beginning, as well as a concept that crept into my consciousness when I was just a boy. Why I grabbed hold of this idea, and how it manifested itself over the years, are parallel stories I’m finally ready to tell.

- About the author -

Howard Schultz is chairman and chief executive officer of Starbucks, where he has been recognized for his leadership, business ethics, and efforts to strengthen communities. He and his wife, Sheri, have pledged extensive support to help veterans make successful transitions to civilian life through the Schultz Family Foundation’s Onward Veterans initiative. Schultz is the bestselling author of Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul and Pour Your Heart Into It.

More from Howard Schultz

From the Ground Up

A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America


From the Ground Up

— Published by Random House —