When managing your business reputation, you might not make everyone happy, but as a leader, you have a responsibility to ensure that your business lives to serve another day. ~ JL Ferren
In this post, we’ll take a close look at the most recent incident that occurred at a local Starbucks in Philadelphia, PA where 2 men were arrested. We’ll hear the 911 call that was placed and we’ll analyze the actions of Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, and the rather surprising debate surrounding how he responded. I’ll also be adding my own two cents throughout this post. Finally, we’ll discuss the ugly truth about managing the reputation of your business and why your competition doesn’t want you to even see this. Statistics show that about 82% of consumers read online reviews for businesses, so managing your reputation is important.
Once again the hashtag #BoycottStarbucks has reared it’s ugly head at Starbucks, the popular American coffee company and coffeehouse chain that has nearly 28,000 locations around the world. Starbucks will be closing down 8000 stores on May 29th, 2018 to conduct internal training (racial bias training) for their employees, in response to their most recent incident where 2 young men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, were arrested.
These men were arrested for allegedly causing a disturbance and trespassing. However, they were released that very same day because Philadelphia’s District Attorney declined to prosecute them. Could it be that they weren’t causing a disturbance at all?
Let’s first look at the video clip that went viral and sparked national outrage, courtesy of a customer who recorded the incident on her phone:
Outrage After Two Black Men Arrested At Philadelphia Starbucks
While there’s two sides to every story, I have not heard, nor have I seen any evidence of these men causing a disturbance. As we look at the video, it’s clear that customers within Starbucks are also in shock and wondering why they are even being arrested.
According to Starbucks’ excessive loitering policy, the manager has the right to enforce the policy, even if it means calling the police. However, this incident begs some questions like, ” Did the store manager, Holly Hylton really need to dial 911 in this situation, which is designated for emergency calls?” Did she feel threatened in any way? Did she have a growing irritation of non-paying visitors loitering at her store? Was there any prejudice or discrimination in her decision to dial 911 on Robinson and Nelson?
For now, I’ll reserve judgement on the racial element of this story, but I do have more to say…
Honestly, I have to say that “excessive” loitering and “at the manager’s discretion” can be very broad terms and left wide open to interpretation. If Hylton had any prejudice whatsoever in her decision to contact the police, it may be tough to pinpoint for those looking on the outside in.
With that being said, why is it that police were called within just 2 minutes of Donte Robinson and Rashad Nelson’s arrival? More on that later…
The 911 call itself, seemed to be rather straight forward. I didn’t get the inclination that she felt threatened or that there was a dire emergency. However, the dispatcher said “a group of males were causing a disturbance”, even though Hylton did not say it in those terms.
Let’s take a listen…
The 911 call released and the moments that lead up to the Starbucks arrest:
I’m certainly not one to push racial narratives when evidence is not present, but I’m also not one to turn a blind eye to blatant discrimination and prejudice. Do I think there was discrimination and predjudice in this situation? Honestly, I’ve been leaning toward that argument, but I’m not hear to make the case for racial bias. I really want to look at the reality of this situation and the course of events that took place.
My question as I do this is “What would the logical and reasonable response of each person in this scenario be?”
Before I even go there, let’s take a quick look at Good Morning America’s interview with Robinson and Nelson.
Watch: Full Interview of Donte Robinson and Rashad Nelson with Good Morning America
In a recent interview with Robin Roberts from Good Morning America, both Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson claim they came to Starbucks to meet with someone about a Real Estate investment and one of them had asked to use the restroom. They said they were denied because they had not made a purchase, to which they “left it at that” and sat down. Suddenly, Holly Hylton, the store manager comes to their table and asked if they were going to order anything. They declined her gesture, saying they had water bottles of their own and were waiting for someone to arrive for a business meeting.
They claim Hylton immediately asked them to leave, since they were not going to place an order. Robinson and Nelson both refused to leave, feeling they had done nothing wrong and Hylton calls the police. All of this transpires within 2 minutes of their arrival…
Whether this is a racial issue or not, the CEO of Starbucks must take responsibility and take action for this incident.
CEO of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson takes immediate action to rectify the situation:
Honestly, if Kevin Johnson was serious and sincere about what he said in this video, then I admire his approach to the situation. While that admiration will surely come under much scrutiny and disagreement, here me out on this one…
Imagine being the CEO of your own business and one of your employees takes an action that is not only out of line with the values and business practices that you stand for, but causes an incident that sparks national outrage and calls for the boycott of all the locations under your span of control.
Put yourself in Kevin Johnson’s shoes. What would you do as the CEO? Surely there are many avenues to take and some may think that racial bias training is useless. But to do nothing in this type of situation is not only irresponsible, it also shows a lack of leadership.
I believe Kevin Johnson is doing what he feels is best to manage the reputation of his company and I applaud him for his actions.
But of course, not everyone will agree with my thoughts on Kevin Johnson’s response…
The surprising debate surrounding the Starbucks CEO’s response
Last night I was on Facebook and came across a video by a guy named Brandon Tatum that was totally not what I expected when I read the headline. I actually found that same video on YouTube and here is what he had to say:
Brandon Tatum, who is a former Tuscon Police Officer and avid Trump Supporter rips into Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson for his response to the incident.
Around the 3 minute mark of this video Tatum is clear on his stance and says “…everybody with common sense knows that this is not a racial issue, but the CEO has to be a Social Justice Warrior… and he’s pretty much CRAPPING on his own employee. Just pretty much saying that she’s a racist. He won’t stand up for his own employees in the face of political correctness. These gentlemen broke the rules and they refused to do what they were told to do… and so the natural course of action happened.
Tatum then says, “I will never support a company who is dedicated to disenfranchising a group of people, in this situation it’s white people, and then victimizing… perpetuating the victim mentality for another group of people, who is the black people in this situation. I have zero respect for the CEO and if I seen him face to face, I would call him a coward.
After watching this video, I immediately read comments where many agreed with Tatum’s response:
Why I have to disagree with Brandon Tatum and fully support CEO Kevin Johnson’s Response
Again, I realize that many may not agree with me on this one, but as Tatum says, let’s look at facts. I won’t even address the ridiculous and ignorant ranting tirade of Brandon Tatum calling Donte Robinson and Rashad Nelson thugs and fools for not leaving the store.
I simply want to look at the reality of the situation.
Let’s take this a step further and completely remove race and politics from the equation and just discuss the reality of the situation. Looking at it from a logical and reasonable perspective.
Given the social atmosphere of Starbucks, it’s not uncommon at all to see people who come in and have a seat prior to making an order, if they even make one. Many people come to Starbucks to hang out with friends, use the Wifi, and order “at their discretion”, so I’m not certain how the actions of these 2 men were out of the ordinary.
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However, part of the debate is that some people feel “Rules are Rules” and the policy is what it is. If they were being asked to leave because they didn’t intend to order, then they should have left.
Listen, I get that Starbucks has a policy and they have a right to enforce it….
But should 2 minutes really be considered “excessive loitering”?
Imagine walking into a Starbucks to conduct a meeting with a friend and you’re simply waiting for them to arrive. Then within 2 minutes, you’re asked to leave because you’re not making an order. Is that even reasonable? I believe Robinson and Nelson were offended at the request to leave and were adamant about the fact that they were waiting to meet with someone. They were sitting down socializing like everyone else.
I seriously doubt this store manager is some coffee pushing tyrant who demands that any and everyone who comes into Starbucks has a 2 minute ordering window, or they have to immediately leave. That would be bad for business and I’m certain she would have been fired.
How do we know the realtor friend didn’t intend to purchase something when he arrived? Maybe he wanted to treat the gentlemen. We don’t know because within 2 minutes of Robinson and Nelson’s arrival, the police were called to respond.
It’s just not logical to me that the excessive loitering policy should have been enforced within 2 minutes and a 911 emergency call made on the two gentlemen. This situation just seemed completely unfair to Robinson and Nelson, who might I remind everyone, fully cooperated with the arrest and did not cause an uproar.
Sure, they didn’t honor the immediate request to vacate, but there was no evidence whatsoever to show that they were causing a disturbance. Although I’m not a fan of the arrest, I will say that the police did have a responsibility to escort them out of the store.
Did Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson throw his employees under the bus?
After hearing what Kevin Johnson had to say on the matter, I would have to disagree. I think he was clear that the incident should have not went down the way it did and that the store manager should have handled it differently. However, instead of placing blame in her lap, he took responsibility.
Johnson says, “… certainly there are some situations where the call to police is justified… situations where there’s violence or threats or disruption. In this case none of that existed. These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened and we are accountable. I am accountable. Now, going through this, I’m gonna do everything I can to ensure it is fixed and never happens again.
Whether that is… changes to the policy, in the practice, additional store managers training, including training around unconscious bias… and we will address this. Now there’s been some calls for us to take action on the store manager. I believe that blame is misplaced. In fact I think the focus of fixing this… I own it! This is a management issue and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy, the practice, and the training that led to this outcome.”
He ends the video by saying, “You have my commitment. We will address this. And we will be a better company for it. Thank you.”
I just don’t see how he threw the employee under the bus. Maybe I’m missing something. However, I do hope they become a better company.
The Ugly Truth About Managing Your Business Reputation
Again, I feel like Kevin Johnson showed exactly how a business leader is supposed to respond when managing the reputation of their company.
- Take responsibility and accountability for the actions of your employees… and simply fix the issue!
- Look closely at your own internal policies and ensure they are crystal clear. Don’t leave anything open for interpretation. Talk with your employees about the implementation these policies.
- Train your employees, to ensure they understand exactly how to follow through with certain business practices that are in line with your values.
- Ensure managers and all employees understand the extent of their discretion, using sound judgement when necessary. Ensure that they are on board with respecting diversity and ensuring that patrons respect the establishment and its employees.
- Be willing to take the unpopular stance as long as it means that your principles and values remain intact. That’s the ugly truth about managing your reputation.
It’s at times of controversy where competition and people who simply don’t support your business will want to come down on you, hope you fail, and want you to completely fold under pressure.
It’s at this moment where you must take control of the situation and establish a solution that shows your employees that you support them, but that also shows customers that you care about them too. When managing your business reputation, you might not make everyone happy, but as a leader, you have a responsibility to ensure that your business lives to serve another day.
To Your Success,
Digital Marketing Consultant
Ps. If you’re serious about taking charge of your reputation, then let’s sit down and discuss your business. I’ve always been adamant about having an impeccable online reputation and operating with a high level of integrity and business ethics. My goal is to work with businesses who want the same.
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PPS. What do you think about the Starbucks CEO’s response? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts. I realize not everyone will agree with what I said, but certainly we can have a healthy discussion.