Howard Schultz, the Starbucks chairman and CEO who announced last week that the global coffee giant is offering free tuition to all of its employees who work 20 hours a week or more, said he understands the plight of the poor because he's witnessed the dismantling of the American dream in his own family.
"When I grew up as a poor kid in Brooklyn I saw the fracturing of the American dream. My parents did not have health insurance — I saw that firsthand," Schultz told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.
"I'm scarred with what it meant to grow up on the other side of the tracks. I feel the vulnerability and the shame of what that meant as a poor kid. And I see these kids and families and my heart goes out to them," he continued.
Starbucks, which has 21,000 coffee shops in 67 countries, announced last week that the company will pay the cost of tuition for its employees who work a minimum of 20 hours a week. The company will pay partial tuition for freshmen and sophomore students and full tuition for juniors and seniors who attend Arizona State University's online program.
"This could cost tens of millions of dollars per year, depending on how many people enroll," Schultz explained. "This is not an expense, the way I look at it, it's an investment in our people, in our company and in society. It is a win-win."
While Schultz said his aim is to attract and retain employees at Starbucks, those who make the decision to leave the company after obtaining their college degree won't have to pay back the money spent on their education.
"I think what we've proven, over the years, is that Starbucks has the lowest attrition rate of any company in our sector … and all of this is because we've made it clear that people, literally, are our most important asset that we want to invest in," he asserted.
"When we were building Starbucks, I wanted to build the kind of company my father never got a chance to work for," Schultz emphasized. "Healthcare became key — we did that in 1989, way before President Obama and Obamacare. And we did it for part-time people and people who are working 20 hours or more."
Paying for employees' healthcare has cost Starbucks $250 million over the last 10 years, Schultz added, noting that offering to pay for employees' education further demonstrates the company's culture and investment in its people.
Starbucks has also given $30 million to research and treatment for wounded soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and has committed to hiring 10,000 veterans.