As thousands of enthusiastic fans poured into Toyota Center in Houston on Thursday morning, giant screens suspended from the rafters blared the messages they were sharing via Twitter.
"It's amazing," read one. "Everyone in here can make mochas!"
The downtown arena was buzzing, and it wasn't just from the caffeine. An effusive group of nearly 10,000 managers and higher-ups with the Starbucks coffee-store chain had assembled there to kick off the company's massive Global Leadership Conference.
They cheered company CEO Howard Schultz and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, whose later venture, the mobile-payment company Square, is now partners with Starbucks in changing the way people pay for their coffee drinks.
They tweeted -- often with exclamation points -- and shared photos of their colleagues and the speakers. One woman, @JaclynLeigh1989, declared Michelle Gass, Starbucks' president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, to be her "New role model!"
And of course there was coffee: As servers delivered small cups of Thanksgiving Blend to attendees, organizers boasted it was one of the largest coffee tastings ever.
The three-day event includes leadership training and coffee education, and a collective 42,000 hours of community volunteering around town.
Schultz, among the first to speak at the morning session, noted that at the last leadership conference in New Orleans in 2008, the mood was gloomy. The nation was in a recession and Starbucks was going through hard times and had to close hundreds of stores.
But that conference, he said, served to uplift those who came: "It was like a tidal wave," he said.
"I think that was the beginning of the turnaround. We defined the destiny in New Orleans, and we're going to define it again in Houston."
Video profiles highlighted store managers from around the world. One paid tribute to the manager at store No. 6667 in Fort Worth for her team's efficiency -- once serving 86 orders from the drive-through in only 30 minutes.
Cliff Burrows, the president of the Americas who served as master of ceremonies, noted that competition is only intensifying.
"Are we going to give them a slice of our business?"
"No!" the crowd answered.
Near the end of the morning session, Dorsey told the crowd to expect "epic" innovations with the Square/Starbucks partnership. By 2013, he said, customers using Square will be able to tip their baristas using their mobile devices. The news was well received.
Dorsey noted that his first job was as a barista at his mother's coffee house in St. Louis.
Harvard historian Nancy Koehn gave a high-energy motivational talk on leadership -- after bounding onto the stage like a rock star.
After her speech, Schultz wondered aloud how much caffeine she'd had that morning.
Starbucks executives from around the world also spoke and gave some updates; India and Vietnam soon will get their first Starbucks, for example. The ovations and cheers were tumultuous enough for a sporting arena, but these fans were expressing devotion for their employer.
Afterward, crews of Starbucks volunteers fanned out to perform good deeds in the Fifth Ward and other spots around Houston.
Along several blocks of Lyons Avenue, volunteers got busy painting, building a community garden and mowing lawns. Schultz, wearing a turquoise T-shirt, white jeans and white sneakers, showed up and joined the painters. Starbucks is helping to rehabilitate 70 houses in the Fifth Ward.
During a brief interview with the Chronicle, Schultz said that despite the challenges facing the U.S. economy overall, Starbucks is "having a very good year."
He said his company plans to add 200 stores in the U.S. annually while continuing to open more locations internationally. Currently there are 18,000 Starbucks in 60 countries.
Asked when he first realized Starbucks could be a global force, he said, "August 1996."
"Our first store in Japan," he went on. "We had been told by an outside consulting firm that we would not succeed in the Japanese market. On the day we opened the first store, there was a line out the door.
"The very first customer, who didn't speak English, said he wanted a 'double tall latte.' That's when I knew it would work. We have nearly a thousand stores in Japan now.
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