What's the Big Idea! How Starbuck's Saved My Life
A few nights ago I was watching one of my favorite TV shows on the cable business channel CNBC: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch. Donny is engaging, charming, witty and is a self-made businessman and millionaire himself in the advertising business. Now an ad man knows pop culture! I enjoy listening to Donny question entrepreneurs on how they made their millions by starting with just an idea and passion--and perhaps a little luck. We learn how these folks achieve success despite enduring failures and setbacks.
One night Donny had another ad man, Michael Gates Gill, as a guest on his show. The difference between Gill and Donny's other guests is that Gill started life as a millionaire leading a charmed life. Until the day he lost everything and found his passion through a big idea. Gill's big idea was to accept a job offer as a barista at Starbuck's.
How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else by Michael Gates Gill is the true story of a man who had it all, then lost it all, and in the process found himself. Each chapter starts with a quote published on the side of a Starbucks coffee cup and opens with a catchy title that reveals the advertising copywriting roots of the author.
Gill, son of famed New Yorker writer Brendan Gill, grew up in a brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and a mansion in Bronxville, NY, a suburb of New York City. Later Gill graduated from Yale University where his membership in the Skull & Bones led to a job at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. Gill spent over 35 years with JWT rising from copywriter to creative director and along the journey he married, had four children, a house in Connecticut, and a six-figure salary.
That is until the day Gill was let go from JWT at the age of 53 for being what he surmises as too old for the advertising business.During the next 10 years Gill loses it all. His consulting business fails. An affair leads to another child, a divorce and the loss of his home. He loses his health insurance. To make matters even worse Gill is diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor.
With no means of paying for the operation he needs, Gill finds himself sitting in a Starbucks in his old Upper East Side neighborhood. He is 63 years old, dressed in an expensive suit, with a cell phone, a designer briefcase, drinking a latte—and completely broke.
At that moment, at possibly the lowest point in his life, a dynamic young African-American woman, Crystal, a Starbucks manager, asks Gill a question. “Would you like a job?” Crystal describes the job and benefits at Starbuck's which includes health insurance. Surprising both of them, Gill says, “Yes.” Thus “Mike” begins a new life journey as a Starbucks barista.
Mike begins by sweeping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms. He is terrified of working the cash register and is the most mature employee (in years that is) at the store. Crystal coaches Mike to excellence in his role as a Starbuck's barista, which he describes as the best job he has ever had. Mike honestly admits in the book that if their roles had been reversed, and he was the one interviewing Crystal for a job at his ad agency, he doubts that he would have hired her without her having previous industry experience.
That is why I find the most intriguing person in Gill's book to be Crystal. Crystal meets all of Donny's entrepreneurial criteria: 1) she had a big idea, 2) she had confidence in her own abilities as a businesswoman and manager, 3) she took a big chance on an unknown: Mike.
Donny noted that Tom Hanks will be playing Michael Gates Gill in the movie version of the book by Universal Pictures. But what I really want to know is who will be playing Crystal?