Friday, December 24, 2010

How Starbucks Saved My Life - Book Review

I picked up the book at Evening Hour attracted by the title - coffee is definitely classified as a stimulating beverage but lifesaving? I was intrigued by the description that it was "the riches to rags story of a man who had it all, then lost it all and found it again."

The book is a memoir of Michael Gates Gill, a man in his sixties, living in New York, who finds himself in unexpected circumstances after a life of privilege. Son of a prominent writer and blessed with a picture-perfect life; prestigious job at a respected advertising agency, wife and kids, houses and corporate perks, Michael loves the life of luxury that he is blessed with. But with sudden job loss, followed by other personal misfortunes, he finds himself without a job, a home and all alone.

That is when he walks into a Starbucks for a latte and is asked by a young black woman whether he wants a job. On a whim and clutching the offer as a last straw, Michael begins a new life as a "partner" at Starbucks. He literally learns a new way of life and begins by cleaning the toilet and floors. Over a period of time, Michael learns not only how to start a new career from the bottom of the ladder but also interacts with people who were never part of his social sphere and learns about respect, dignity of labor and most importantly, how to find happiness in life. Starbucks provides a supportive work environment which respects guests and partners (as customers and employees as called in Starbucks lingo) and provides the ideal space for Michael to have his epiphanies. He builds a relationship with his grown children on an equal footing and regains his self-esteem.

The book is written in a light, narrative style with broad glimpses of life in upper-class New York society, a time in US history where Michael is fortunate enough to meet the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Ernest Hemmingway and others. There are personal insights along the way including advice on how precious moments of life are bypassed in the quest for career success, fame or money.

As the story chronicles Michael's life for a period of almost a year, the book appears to be not just the story of one person but of Starbucks as an organization that truly strives to be different in its approach towards both its partners as well as its guests.

I particularly liked the quotes at the beginning of each chapter which are quotes printed on the side of coffee cups at Starbucks, either extracts from songs or by guests at Starbucks. My favorite one was "The human catalysts for dreamers are the teachers and encouragers that dreamers encounter throughout their lives. So here's a special thanks to all of the teachers." Micheal describes his school teacher, Miss Markham, who kept faith in Michael who as a boy who could not read until he was in sixth grade and wrote him a prediction "Michael Gates Gill is destined to be great."

For most of the book, the teacher's prediction seemed redundant considering that a child born into the lap of luxury, graduate of Yale, top brass at a prestigious ad agency, pretty much had lived a live preordained through his birth until his sixties. But at the end of the book, Michael acknowledges all the significant influences in the writing of the book and the fact that it was chosen to be made into a film by the incredibly talented Tom Hanks.

Michael Gill attained his greatness as predicted by Miss Markham, but only when he rewrote his fate by starting over, at the place where most of us live all our lives.

1 comment:

  1. After I picked the book, I just could not put it aside till I completed it. It is well-written with all the emotions rightly described. For example, when he talked about people walking (or is that running) to and from the subways, I remembered my first travel on a subway in NY. I was literally dazed.

    I would recommend it for everyone to read.

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