A cancer diagnosis several years ago prompted Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer at Starbucks, to spend more quality time with his family and focus on creating a connection with others in his personal and professional life.
He told his story to University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, faculty and other community members Friday afternoon at Howard L. Hawks Hall during a conversation with Jeff Raikes.
Raikes is namesake of the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at UNL and former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Johnson said that commitment to connecting with others and admitting vulnerability in his mistakes are his guiding principles in leading the global coffee company.
"I do believe that those connections that you make in your life are very valuable," Johnson said, also advising the audience to see failure as a learning opportunity on a journey to success. "There's elements of something that you do that you take away and say, 'Wow, that worked out pretty good,' and these other elements didn't work. You have to shift from a fear of failure to a celebration of learning."
While student Shawheen Naderi admitted he's been anxious about the future, he felt Johnson's advice to see failure as an opportunity to grow was valuable.
"A lot of people are going to struggle with failure," Naderi said. "I guess as a student, you're kind of worried about, 'What if something bad happens?'"
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Johnson spoke about failures he's dealt with since taking over Starbucks from founder Howard Schultz in 2017, specifically an incident last year in a Philadelphia store where two black men were arrested because of what he referred to as racial stereotypes.
"I immediately knew that we had failed in that case," Johnson said. "And I didn’t understand how this could ever happen. I mean, it’s heartbreaking."
Amanda Kelebit praised Johnson's decision to close Starbucks stores for a day after the incident to train all employees on how to fight racial bias.
"I think it's really important that he's acknowledged it, and he's willing to learn," Kelebit said.
In order to successfully create a more inclusive environment, Johnson said it's important to listen to different points of view and continue learning from successes and struggles alike.
"I've always poured my passion and energy and creativity into what I'm doing today," he said. "And a lot of that is the relationships and the learning from the journey and the joy you experienced when you contribute in a positive way and the struggles you encounter and fight through."