Growing 'green beans' into leaders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am


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Late one evening at a Starbucks store, a lady traveller was looking for a coffee mug as a souvenir for her daughter - a ritual she followed on every trip. The store manager told her it was out of stock and suggested she come back the next day. The traveller was disappointed - she had an early flight and would not have time to return.

A barista overheard the conversation and quietly made a call. Afterwards, she approached the lady. She offered to get the mug from another store and have it ready for her the next day before her flight.

Paul Lam, head of partner resources at Starbucks Asia-Pacific, vividly recalls the incident. He says it demonstrates the kind of self-initiative easily seen in Starbucks' 'partners' - a term it uses to describe its employees.

'Passion and commitment are the qualities we always look for,' Lam says. 'It is not too difficult to find someone who is capable. The challenge is to get someone who has heart and passion for the job.'

Starbucks has about 1,300 front-line 'partners' in roughly 120 stores in Hong Kong and Macau. They work at stores operated by Coffee Concepts, a joint venture between Starbucks Coffee International and local catering group Maxim's. Most front-line partners are young people and Starbucks is committed to training them into future leaders by offering comprehensive training programmes.

'Almost all baristas are hired from outside the industry. We train them as 'green beans' as we believe it is important for them to establish a good foundation with us,' Lam says.

He says it may take three to four years for a barista to become a store manager. Because baristas and store managers are usually separated by just a few years of age, the company relies on store managers to positively influence baristas. 'Store managers play an important role in training younger baristas. This has proved to be a much more effective method than us from the office going to talk to them.'

When Lam joined Starbucks five years ago, he was responsible for compensations and benefits in Asia-Pacific, including mainland China and Japan. He says that the current trend in mainland China is being as flexible as possible in this area.

'About 90 per cent of our partners in mainland China are young people. If we offer medical benefits and a retirement scheme, they may not find it attractive. Instead we can consider, say, an eye-care benefit scheme that may be more relevant.

'This is part of the Starbucks' philosophy - the benefits we offer should be flexible and should address people's diversified needs,' he says.

Potential Pay


F&B Director

HK$40,000-60,000 (10 years+)

Restaurant Manager

HK$18,000-25,000 (5-8 years)


HK$15,000-18,000 (3-5 years)


HK$9,000-12,000 (0-3 years)

Source: Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades