Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Guest Post: Hansel visits Starbucks Headquarters

Photo: Hansel

Hansel is a Graduate student at PLU, originally from Vietnam. He is currently working with the Student Involvement and Leadership department as the assistant director of social media and technology while pursuing Masters degree in Marketing Research. Over Spring Break 2016, he was able to visit Starbucks Headquarters, along with several other international students. Read about his experience below!

"Over the spring break 2016, I had a chance to visit Starbucks headquarters - or often called Starbucks Support Center (SSC) - with several fellow students from Pacific Lutheran University. The trip was made possible by the PLU Career Connections in collaboration with Dinning & Culinary Servicesand Alumni & Constituent Relations.

As a graduate student in the Master of Science in Marketing Research, naturally I am interested in learning how businesses create, develop, and mange their brands. At the moment when I learn about this trip to the SSC, I knew that it would be an incredible learning experience. So without any hesitance I reached out to reserve my spot. I was pretty excited to get a sneak peak behind the scenes of the brand that I love.
The day started off early at 8:00 AM. We met at PLU campus and then travelled together to the SSC, which is located in the SODO neighborhood of Seattle. When arriving at 9:30 AM, we were greeted and welcomed by Tuan Tran, who was our tour guide for the day. He provided us with name tags and helped us check into the building.

Photo: Hansel
The visit stared with a welcome presentation by Tuan. He is a Branded Solution senior manager of Starbucks. Tuan also briefly shared with us some insights into different product lines and brand extensions of Starbucks. He would then hand off to another senior manager, who delivered a presentation on Starbucks’ ethical practices in coffee sourcing.
My group then went on a tour to some public areas within the SSC. It is quite a typical corporate office space with meeting rooms, common kitchens, long hallways and open space offices with cubicles next to each other. I noticed that each floor is named after a major product categories ever offered by Starbucks, and each meeting room is named after a specific drink. The interior design is quite nice with a warm tone and cozy atmosphere. There are some Starbucks touches here and there but not excessive.
Majority of the staff that I saw in the building were young, friendly, and pretty energetic. They moved fast, traveled in pairs, and multitasked. I also noticed that most people here traveled from floor to floor using stairs instead of elevator — thumbs up! Also, there are more than 20 PLU alumni currently working at Starbucks Support Center (as of April 2016)! Thats pretty cool!
There is one Starbucks counter at every floor — gosh, I wish I worked here. The cafeteria is nicely decorated with same design cues often seen at a Starbucks store. There are graphics on the walls featuring Starbucks’ mission statement and core values, images of old building of the SSC, and the first Starbucks store at Pike Place Market.
We also stopped by the Coffee Lab where every single Starbucks coffee was tested and developed. Brandon — a coffee expert — shared with us that on a typical day he would taste between 400–700 cups of coffee. The team at Coffee Lab often start their day pretty early at 5:30 AM.

Photo: Hansel
As a part of the tour, we attended a coffee workshop where we were given lessons about different types of coffee and techniques that experts use to taste test coffee. We also learn that each kind of coffee grown at different regions around the world has its own unique flavor. All factors — water, soil, heat, and growing techniques — directly affect the coffee quality and flavor.
We also got to try five different coffee blends: the Nicaragua, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Komodo Dragon, and No. 11 Microblend. Among them the Ethiopia and No. 11 are rare and can only be found at Starbucks Reserve stores, fine dining restaurants, or exclusive corporate offices such as Google or Facebook. It was the first time in my life that I could distinguish aroma and taste of different coffee. I could describe those flavors in familiar senses such as cinnamon, vanilla, berry, or floral. I myself preferred the soft body and honey like sweet note of the Nicaragua coffee.

Photo: Hansel
The last part of our visit was to meet with PLU alumni who are currently working at the SSC. They are all from different departments — marketing, finance, IT, and corporate legal — and have been working at the SSC between 4 to 11 years. I enjoyed every second of the 45-minute panel but felt that it went by too fast.
It was interested to learn that working schedule is pretty flexible for most employees to accommodate personal life matters. In marketing areas, employees are encouraged to change roles every 6–8 years to gain new perspectives. It is very helpful for a candidate to have recommendation from current employees. Starbucks culture is to stay humble and look forward.

Before we heading back home, I made a quick stop to the Coffee Gear Store to pick up some goodies. The store is quite small but offers some unique Starbucks merchandises that cannot be found anywhere else. There are apparel, office stationaries, bags, keychains, etc. This store is open to the public and located on the 8th floor of the SSC.

The visit to SSC was a success. I learn so much in just one day. I highly encourage any students to look out for opportunities like this as it offers tremendous value to acquire insights into a company. Meeting with the current employees helps me identify the essential competences that I need to invest and grow.
Last note, I was recommended to try Kenya for iced coffee. 
To see more of Hansel's amazing Starbucks photos go here.
To read more from Hansel visit here.

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