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March 2018 Hero of the Month: Orin Smith

Our friend Orin Smith passed on March 1, 2018 and is my hero of the month. 

I first met Orin while helping settle a construction defect case involving his home at Big Horn in Palm Desert. Janet and Orin then became our neighbors and friends at The Reserve in 2012 after they repaired and sold their home at Big Horn. He was just such a brilliant, caring and decent man. In December, when Orin realized his quality time was rapidly diminishing, he called me from his home in Jackson Hole Wyoming — as I now realize, to say goodbye.

This is Orin’s story. He grew up in a tiny town in Washington (Chehalis) and attended the University of Washington. He later received an MBA at Harvard. He joined Starbucks in 1990 as VP and CFO, then became President and COO in 1994, and then CEO from 2000-2005. During that time he created two profoundly important initiatives that have helped define the greatness of Starbucks: the first, to provide health care coverage for all employees, including part-time employees; the second, to create a “best practices” program for coffee and tea farmers that treated them fairly and protected the biodiversity of the sensitive areas they farmed. During this time, Starbucks grew to 10,000 locations in 33 countries.

Along the way, Orin became a board member of Conservation International in recognition of his efforts for “fair trade” and the global environment. Because of his leadership, Starbucks was voted by Fortune Magazine as one of the 10 “Most Admired” companies and one of the 100 Best Companies in America to work for. Orin was personally voted the “Best CEO in America” by Business West in 2004.

Orin also went on to be a major philanthropist in the field of education and served as a director of Nike and for five years was Lead Independent Director at The Walt Disney Company.

Howard Schultz, the Executive Chairman of Starbucks, paid the greatest tribute to Orin: “He taught me what it means to lead and to live with humanity.”

Below is a link to a video of Orin’s address to the National Governor’s Conference in 2005 about the role of health care coverage at Starbucks. It is worthy of your time; it is as relevant today as it was then.

Orin Smith accomplished so much, for so many. — Jim

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