I started my journey in coffee working at a little shop in Chico. At the time this shop was known for being extremely hip, having the “best” coffee, and having a crazy owner. I remember going to my interview and being asked the most insane questions. Questions about religion, drugs, what I would give up to work in this shop, inappropriate sexual questions, etc. It was nuts. But it was THE SHOP WITH THE BEST COFFEE. When you are very young, impressionable, naive, need a job, and are not informed you don’t look at it like one would today.
This guy was tall, ex-navy, smoked the whole interview, white tee, tats and clearly didn’t give a shit about anything except himself and his business. And I, along with many people, wanted to gain this dick’s approval.
My new boss used intimidation, manipulation and the allure of having a “cool” job to get people to do whatever he wanted. He took advantage of everyone, and he was good at it. He would convince me to do things like work 60hrs a week without overtime. He would get me to work a full day on the clock and drive a 13 hours to San Diego for green coffee and supplies and pay me a flat rate of two days work & a hotel because driving “isn’t work.” He paid everyone minimum wage unless you asked after 2 plus years and then you would get like .25-.50 cents more. I was putting up with all of this because I loved coffee, I loved the job and ultimately wanted to gain approval from my “leader”.
This guy would buy himself cars, drink on the job, made it seem like the business owner lifestyle was that of a badass, rockstar. This same guy was so critical & strict that if you did something like like get the flu and sleep through your alarm (which I did), you get your company phone turned off because you were most likely stealing the company phone and not being sick as hell (because I was).
He would convince you to like him by kicking you a beer or randomly let you drive his Porsche or custom BMW M3. I mean, I am still thankful for him letting me take his Lotus Elise for 24hrs on my 23rd birthday, but even then he manipulated me with fear: “Don’t go over 6k Rpms. I have a chip, I’ll know”.
When I was young though, this is what I though business owners were like. They wanted to show everyone how well they were doing – how cool and powerful they were. It was so self serving. Owning a business wasn’t necessarily about passion, but about status, money, power & respect – by getting as much out of people as they could for giving them as little as they can. Fully Scarface.
Is that right? Is that inspiring?
If you are going to own a business that is worth respecting I would hope your business has something to contribute to people, community, passion & ethics. I think treating people like pawns is lame. Utilizing and playing to strengths is important but exploiting people is a whole different thing.
My next big coffee job started amazingly – it was authentic, and full of passion and creativity. We seemed to have something special going both on paper and in the industry.
Then out of nowhere all vision and effort was put into new and different people. Everything and everyone that had grown the company up to this point, suddenly weren’t important anymore. The owners didn’t trust themselves or believe that the staff they had could achieve the goals they had for the company. The F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) mentality ran rampant. We paid way too much attention to what everyone else was doing, so much so that nothing being done in-house was ever given true props for what it was worth. People who were accomplishing great things on multiple levels and branches were never allowed to know of or help create the vision that ownership had. Moreover, the people who had made this place special started hitting ceilings and new employees who had no clue about the culture of the company, or it’s staple product (coffee) started becoming their bosses.That’s hard for employees, especially when they are unsure of why or ever given proper explanations. Sure, if a company brings in 1-2 people to help grow the thing it makes sense, but when the heads of all departments are new faces, and the company isn’t being led by the people who made it special, it’s a bit concerning. From the outside it might seem like the culture hasn’t changed there; but anyone who knows how it was, or anyone who actually comes into those shops can see the difference plain as day.
Here’s the thing: Change isn’t bad. It’s the manner in which you change that makes it good or bad. Something I will never forget that hit me real hard was the moment where I was given a glimpse of the company’s future plans…and I was told that some key people were being brought in to achieve x, y, and z. I remember replying by saying that we already have really great people on staff, and if we all came together knowing this was the plan, that myself and our existing team could fully lead the company and accomplish these goals. I was confident in that. I was told by the owners that there is “No way could you ever lead this plan and accomplish these goals.”
We will never know if I could or couldn’t have accomplished those things. But that statement was a reflection of the leaderships attitude toward the crew that had worked so hard to help them get this far. Let’s be honest, that’s tough to forgive. When you are told that you aren’t good enough, nor will you even be able to try – you don’t feel so rad. Especially when it’s the people you love and look up too who tell you so.
I believe if you want do something truly special, you have to protect and utilize the things and people that make it special. You allow your team to fight tooth and nail to accomplish what you all set out to do. You look at their past successes as a crystal ball for the future and know that they can do it…because they’ve already shown you they can. Those are the kind of companies that will make differences. You invest in your people, you protect them, you work through hardships and at the end of the day if you are a great leader & owner – you carry them – as they will no doubt carry you. That is the dream I one day have for myself as a leader/owner.
If you give support, love, and respect you will receive it in return. If it becomes clear to your employees that no matter how hard they work, they will ultimately get lapped by the new, less qualified guy, how hard can you really expect your employees to work? I can’t tell you how gross it is for me to see people with a resume that looks amazing unable to perform any of the tasks that an entire organization stands for, yet be in charge of moving it forward. I think this happens all the time in this day & age and that’s sad.
I think there is an opportunity for businesses to be different than a top tier of people making insane money and a ton of underlings pulling the ship forward. I think there are ways for individual shareholders (people who are worth keeping) who aren’t on “C Level” to make great money because of the impact they have on the company’s culture and product.
Here’s the thing world: If we are all too scared to try and do something different because Forbes, Starbucks, or any other Fortune 500 company says we shouldn’t, then everything will always be the same. There is only room for so many people “at the top,” so how do we start figuring out ways to spread this love throughout our business…or does anyone even want to?
Maybe I have pipe dreams of something better. Maybe I’m a fool.
Guess we’ll find out.