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March 30, 2015 12:00 PM

My American Dream

GREAT SUCCESS AGAINST ALL ODDS

Life in Brooklyn’s Bayview housing projects wasn’t easy. Though his father worked as a truck driver, Howard Schultz started helping support the family at age 12 by taking on a series of odd jobs. “I had a lot of shame as a boy because I was a poor kid,” he says. “I carry that vulnerability today. But I’m also proud to have come from there. I was imprinted with this work ethic and understanding the value of a dollar because we didn’t have any.” Today, Schultz, 61, has plenty, having turned a small chain of Seattle coffee stores called Starbucks into a billion-dollar business with nearly 22,000 stores worldwide.

Key to His Success: “Education,” says Schultz, who got his degree in communications from Northern Michigan University in 1975. Though his parents were high school dropouts, Schultz’s mom insisted he attend college. “She drilled into me that our station in life was not going to define us.”

Lessons Learned Schultz says he’s grateful for growing up in racially diverse public housing. “It gave me the self-confidence to get along in the world. We all had to get along in that building, and we did. Color wasn’t an issue.”

Paying It Forward: His new “Race Together” initiative is a program aimed at starting honest conversation about race in the United States. “It’s all about inclusion,” he says. “The American dream has to stay alive for everybody.”

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