Strong Brew, Free Samples and the Drive-Thru: A Week in the Life of Starbucks' New CIO

Starbucks CIO Stephen Gillett participated in the coffee company's executive immersion program, where newly hired senior leaders spend a week serving up coffee samples, working the drive-thru and doing much, much more. Here's a photographic sampling of his week and the reason why Starbucks thinks the immersion program is important.

When Starbucks got a new CIO, they put him to work: as a barista. For a week in November 2008, Starbucks Coffee Co.'s new chief information officer, Stephen Gillett, spent the better part of the five days working at the Mercer Island Drive Thru Starbucks store. Gillett took a turn as a barista, manned the drive-thru, handed out samples to customers, assisted a patron who was trying to connect to the Wi-Fi network, and even took out the trash.

Gillett's week-long toil was part of the coffee purveyor's executive immersion program. For many years, Starbucks executives have spent chunks of their time experiencing firsthand the inner workings of the company's stores, talking with baristas on the front lines, and listening to customers' feedback on their in-store experiences. The now-formal program is more critical than ever: Starbucks is in the midst of a grueling companywide transformation brought on by a worsening U.S. recession and the subsequent drop in consumer spending. Getting a reality check—from employees and customers alike—on what's happening in stores is critical for Starbucks executives, and for the future success of the company.

As you'll see, Gillett's experience was an eye-opening one. To read an in-depth profile of Gillett's background and how he got to be Starbucks' "next gen" CIO, as well as the business and IT challenges he faces, see "Starbucks' Next-Generation CIO: Young, Fast and In Control."

"Hello, and Welcome to Starbucks. May I Take Your Order?"

That guy wearing the headset and handing over a coffee at the Mercer Island Starbucks drive-thru is Starbucks' new CIO, Stephen Gillett. "They do a lot in the store," says Gillett, who worked as CIO of Corbis and in senior IT posts at Yahoo and CNET before joining Starbucks in May 2008. "They do a lot of manual things, and they do a lot of automated things using systems and process. For me, it really amplified the expediency by which I want to deliver some of our key transformational technology platforms."
Image credit: Dana Neely