Sept. 30--The man in charge of the bulk of Starbucks' 17,700 stores was not sold on the company at the start.
Back in 2000, when Cliff Burrows was considering working for the coffee chain, he recalls liking the Starbucks he frequented in London, where he lived. He also heard good things about Chairman Howard Schultz's book, "Pour Your Heart Into It."
Burrows wanted to believe in the coffee powerhouse, but something was missing -- until he walked into the Starbucks store at Pike Place Market. He was captivated immediately by the atmosphere of the old coffee shop, just as Schultz had been years before.
That epiphany was followed by a trip to Starbucks' headquarters, where Burrows met then-CEO Orin Smith. "I left that room saying, 'I've got to work for that guy,'?" he said.
Burrows' love for the Starbucks vibe grew when he spent six weeks training at a store atop Queen Anne, learning to make espresso drinks and run a cafe.
"They thought I was good at cleaning windows, I think, because I was tall and it kept me off the [coffee] bar," he .
But the coffee executive never thought he would work full time in Seattle, much less run Starbucks' entire store network in the United States and the rest of the Americas.
Burrows has become Starbucks' second-highest paid executive, behind only Schultz, and is among a handful of people considered possible replacements should Schultz retire again as CEO.
This week in Houston, Burrows will help lead a three-day, $30-million pep rally for nearly 10,000 store managers and other company leaders, an event that incorporates coffee education, community outreach and team building.
The last time Starbucks hosted this event, in New Orleans, it was a bleak time for the company -- and Burrows had just arrived in the United States.
Starbucks had hired him in 2001 to run its then-burgeoning United Kingdom business. Five years later, the company expanded his responsibilities to the rest of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Even after Starbucks' profits started to slide in 2007, Burrows saw himself as part of an international team that would bolster the company's flagging U.S. business.
But Schultz, who returned as CEO in early 2008 after having stepped aside for a few years, wanted Burrows to lead Starbucks' U.S. business.
"Even in my quieter moments, I never dreamed this would happen," he said. "I was still new, I had a lot to do, and the company was moving to become an international business."
But he relished the idea of working with Schultz, whose entrepreneurial zest and passion for customer service and employees he admires.
"I was grateful for the opportunity without understanding, 'Why me?'" Burrows said.
Despite his self-effacing manner and charming British accent -- Burrows grew up in Zambia and completed secondary school in Wales ? he was not just being humble.
He was relatively new to the coffee business. Unlike other Starbucks executives, he had learned retail in the furniture industry, not food and beverages. Before coming to Starbucks, Burrows was with a U.K. home-furnishings company called Habitat, where he oversaw about 100 stores.
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