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Tough words from New York Times columnist Joe Nocera this weekend as he assessed the challenge facing Starbucks, stemming from CEO Howard Schultz’s reversal of a previous decision to eliminate hot breakfast sandwiches from the company’s stores because the aroma was detracting from the smell of coffee. This was part of a broader initiative that Schultz has been pushing, as he said he wanted to return the company to its coffee-driven roots.

The decision to keep the sandwiches, according to the company, was made because they were reformulated so that they didn’t smell so much. But beyond the fact that Nocera doesn’t like the sandwiches very much, the columnist also points to core internal conflicts and inconsistencies that may be corrupting the Starbucks culture:

“As much as Mr. Schultz wishes it, Starbucks is never going to be the easygoing, hang-around-for-a-few-hours place it once was,” Nocera writes. “It is just too big, and there is too much pressure from Wall Street. The only way Starbucks’ stock is going to get moving again is by selling more non-coffee items like, well, lousy egg sandwiches. Indeed … the company announced that it would soon introduce yet more breakfast items, including oatmeal, a ‘grain breakfast pastry’ and something it is calling its ‘Power Protein Plate’ (‘a hearty combination of a cage-free hard-boiled egg, 100 percent whole wheat bagel, peanut butter, cheese, and fresh fruit.’)

“Whenever Mr. Schultz has had to choose between returning Starbucks to its roots and trying to ignite growth, he has chosen growth. That is one change Starbucks is never going to be able to make.”

KC's View:
As often pointed out in this space, there is an inevitable disconnect between the feeding of the monster called Wall Street and the nurturing of the cultural soul of a company. It is almost impossible to do both…and once one has started feeding Wall Street – where some people would eat their own children if they thought it would net them a dime more in profit – it is damn near impossible to backtrack.