Starbucks' CIO Stephen Gillett Seeks "Pillars of Strength" During Economic Storm

Starbucks is in the middle of a high-stakes turnaround, and it's young new CIO is in charge of recruiting the IT leaders who will help the coffee company regain its steam. In this latest Hiring Manager Interview, Gillett discusses his recruiting strategy.

By John Mann
Tue, January 13, 2009

CIO — Most IT managers' first hires are programmers or tech support specialists. But not Stephen Gillett, the new CIO at Starbucks. The first person he ever hired as an IT leader was a CFO who became his boss. Talk about trial by fire.

Gillett, who joined Starbucks in May 2008, has been through all manner of job interviews with candidates during his short career (he's only 32.) He once had a job seeker show up drunk for an interview. Another candidate had the gall to tell Gillett quite clearly that the candidate wasn't interested in the job so much as he wanted to move up inside the company.

Those candidates have distinguished themselves, which is what Gillett looks for in job seekers, but not the right way. Starbucks is in the middle of a high-stakes, high-profile turnaround during what is the worst economy since the Great Depression, and Gillett needs employees who are dedicated to Starbucks' revitalization, who can wow him with new ideas and who've helped other companies successfully emerge from financial downturns. Traditional job seekers who send traditional résumés and follow-up notes, who follow traditional job search protocols seem to bore him. But unorthodox job seekers who "think differentiation with a capital D" demonstrate the qualities Gillett is looking to add to his 1,000-person IT organization at Starbucks.

"I received a professional résumé for a highly qualified candidate, and when I got down to the hobby section, it said, "I can juggle four things at once and I lost Jeopardy," says Gillett. "That differentiated the candidate for me and actually got the candidate to the top of my stack."

Here, Gillett discusses his process for interviewing those outstanding candidates, his effort to make Starbucks a "destination employer" for sought-after IT professionals, and the biggest hiring mistake he ever made.

John Mann: What are your hiring challenges?

Stephen Gillett: One of my challenges is really an opportunity: to put Starbucksâ¬" technology activities on the map and to recruit from strong technology companies. I want Starbucks' information technology organization in the Seattle community to be what I call a "destination employer." We are a big player in the retail space, but much of the technology talent that I am trying to recruit is going to come from the technology sector.

So how do I make the best and brightest think of Starbucks when they think of a career change or want to get into a highly innovative, modern technology company? The challenge I have is messaging. One advantage that Starbucks has is its brand presence and affinity with people on a personal note. Odds are that the individuals I'm trying to recruit are consumers of our product.

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