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Updated: Starbucks employee says his manager discouraged bike use

Posted by on October 17th, 2006 at 8:23 am

[Update: The Director of Corporate Communications for Starbucks has responded to this story with a prepared statement.]

[Fabian Mills, former
Starbucks store manager]

30 year-old Northeast Portland resident Fabian Mills used to manage the Starbucks store on 102nd and Halsey near the Gateway Transit Center.

Back in August he rode his bike to a district meeting and got a surprising reaction from his new district manager, Frances Ericson. Here’s how it went down according to Mills:

“She pulled me aside and said she would prefer that I drove to the meeting. She asked me if I even had a car and then said it was inappropriate to ride my bike. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but she actually said she would prefer if I drove a car and that it was unprofessional to ride a bike to work.”

Four days after this conversation took place Ericson transferred Mills to a new store in Troutdale at 257th and Stark. Mills was unhappy with the decision because the transfer would add 16 miles to his daily bike commute.

When Mills expressed his disappointment with the move, Ericson allegedly said, “you should just get over riding your bike.”

“I would prefer if you drove a car, it’s unprofessional to ride a bike to work.”
–alleged comments of Starbucks District Manager Frances Ericson

According to Mills, Ericson claims she moved him because of his poor job performance but Mills doesn’t buy that reasoning because in his 2 1/2 years with the company, he never once had a bad performance review and profits were up at his store.

Mills filed a formal complaint with the human resources and business ethics departments, but he’s not convinced the issue was ever taken very seriously. Mills doesn’t feel the company was tough enough on his former manager and he’s worried that she’ll continue to discourage bike use,

“Right now she manages eight stores, soon she could manage 110 stores…will her views continue as she moves up?”

Mills won’t be around to find out. He found the official response to his complaint so lackluster that he decided to resign and has since moved on (he now works for Bank of America).

I was surprised someone so high up at Starbucks would make these comments, especially given that one of Starbucks’ own guiding principles is to, “Contribute positively to our communities and our environment.”

I decided to contact Ericson about her alleged remarks. She said it is against company policy to speak to any media directly and she referred me to a marketing person. I eventually ended up with an email from regional director Michelle Cain. Citing privacy concerns, she refused to address any of my questions about Fabian Mills.

If Ericson did indeed say these things, this is a very unfortunate situation. Managers in influential positions (especially in large companies) should encourage bicycle use among their employees, not discourage it. Over 6,000 Portlanders from 550 companies took part in the BTA’s recent Bike Commute Challenge. Starbucks did not participate.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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brock
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brock

Just another reason not to go to Starbucks…

Cecil
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Cecil

Wow, what a disappointing story. Not that I patronized Starbucks much to begin with, but this is the final straw (or coffee stirrer, to be more apt).

Perhaps if this story gets picked up and spread, we can get a better answer from Starbucks or a policy change . . .

TS
Guest
TS

That’s pretty ironic, given your previous story about how bike-friendly Stumptown Coffee is.

Wayne
Guest
Wayne

Wow. Well I know where I will no longer be buying my coffee! Congratulations, Frances Ericson. You’ve just decreased the sales from your stores.

Brad
Guest
Brad

It’s time again to call out the two wheeled militia!

Starbuck’s boycott anyone? There might be some juicy media opportunities here. I seem to recall that McCoffee was a sponsor of the Bridge Pedal and the media likes a good tale about hypocrisy – “We love bikes…until an employee rides one.”

I guess this puts Starbuck’s in favor of gridlock, global warming, continued dependence on fossil fuels, continued military involvement in the Middle East, dirty air and water, and obesity?

Gregg
Guest
Gregg

Encouraging bicycle use doesn’t have to mean encouraging people to show up to management meetings in spandex. I ride my bike to work and try to maintain a professional appearance but since I store my bike in the office and change in a storage closet, there are occasions when I have to adjust my behavior. Like days that we have out of area visitors or executives that may not understand cycling as much. Those are the days I take the bus.

pdxrocket
Guest
pdxrocket

Starbucks boycott? I thought we already did that? wtih all these great choices for REAL coffee in Portland, who in their right mind would go there?

Scott B
Guest
Scott B

Well, I guess Starbucks won’t lose my dollars because they never had any of them in the first place but still, what is wrong with this women?

Jonathan, maybe you could post her email and we could all give her and their PR deparment a piece of our minds at the same time. Maybe I’ll write while drinking some Stumptown.

And I sometimes thought maybe starbucks wasn’t the devil… I love close minded management.

Starbucks: I’d get my friends to stop drinking your swill but they have already stopped drinking your swill. If you are a decent company lets here some answers. This women should be fired and Fabian deserves a fat bonus for bring this liability to the companies (and publics) attention.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

It doesn’t surprize me at all. They said their some of their coffee was fair trade but of the beans that they claimed were fair trade less than 10% actually were. They have policies against employees having visible tattoos and piercings, citing that as unprofessional as well. They roast their beans too dark anyways and burn all the flavor out of them.

Fabian needs to get an application into Stumptown Coffee right away.

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

Gregg, Fabian didn’t say that he showed up to work or the meeting in spandex. There’s no mention of lycra anywhere in Jonathan’s article. I think you rushed your judgement a little bit.

That said, I agree that taking your employer into consideration when choosing an alternative form of transportation is a good idea, if only to find out what they think about it.

I’m surprised that Starbucks would be so harsh on a manager with a good track record; it sounds to me like an unfair termination, and Fabian needs to contact BOLI and make a complaint.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Yes! Boycott Starbucks starting NOW!

Brad
Guest
Brad

Just a heads-up.

Author Mitch Albom is doing a book signing at the Starbuck’s on NW 23rd and Overton from Noon to 1:00 PM TODAY.

He is also doing a Starbuck’s sponsored book discussion and signing tonight at Concordia University in NE Portland.

I mention this because his new book is a big Starbuck’s media push and it would be embarrassing if a bunch of cyclists showed up and starting promoting awareness of Fabian’s plight and Ms. Ericson’s anti-bike bias.

Jonathan Maus
Guest

Kristen (comment 10) said:

“it sounds to me like an unfair termination”

Mills was not terminated for riding his bike. He resigned his position voluntarily.

Also folks, please remember that until Starbucks speaks specifically about this issue and confirms or denies the statements of Frances Ericson, all of this is just an allegation from a former employee.

I tried to make that clear in the story.

Donna
Guest
Donna

Work has been stressful lately and I haven’t been feeling too positive about it these days. For all that, when I went to a manager’s meeting by bike last month, I was taken aside by the CEO and the HR director and thanked for providing such a healthy example to other employees. I’ve got to keep counting my blessings.

Cecil
Guest
Cecil

Jonathan, I agree that we need to hear more from Starbucks on this issue before absolutely condemning them, but it sounds like they are stonewalling you on your inquiries, which is not exactly a good PR move . . .

Donna
Guest
Donna

On the subject of bike-friendly, downtown Portland alternatives to Starbucks, I have noticed that the staff at 2 shops are very bikey folks: Peet’s at SW Broadway and Washington and the new 3 Lions’ at SW 6th and Washington. Nice people, nice coffee and tea, and 3 Lions’ offers lunch as well.

Richard
Guest
Richard

This is possibly just the action of a mid level manager in Starbucks. It may not reflect corporate policy at all. I’d suggest writing to their head office and complaining. Starbucks is a very marketing savy company – they will take action if they perceive that there is enough impact.

Clearly they have good marketing, since they don’t have good coffee.

Jaime
Guest
Jaime

Sounds like Starbucks might just realize a good brisk ride in the morning may decrease the demand for their principle product.

bravenewworld
Guest
bravenewworld

FWIW, a relative who works at Starbucks is taking part in a subsidized (may be free) corporate “wellness” program that provides a fitness membership and access to a personal trainer. She was significantly overweight when she began the program (about six months ago) and is now looking pretty trim.

As part of her transformation to an active lifestyle, she began commuting by bicycle a few miles to and from work, with the encouragement and support of her co-workers and, I presume, management.

I know it’s easy and perfectly reasonable to pick on Starbucks and root for the local good guys. Just remember though, Starbucks essentially created the market for gourmet, quality coffee. The fact that there even exists a market for organic, shade grown, free-trade coffee is almost entirely a result of Starbucks bringing good coffee to the market in the first place, even if they don’t represent the zenith of sustainable and fair business practice.

They are certainly far better to their employees and society than much of their corporate brethren.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Some good points here. Buying coffee from a local versus corporate vendor doesn’t lessen the environmental impact of actually growing coffee beans to fill the world’s demands.

Cate
Guest
Cate

Richard said “This is possibly just the action of a mid level manager in Starbucks. It may not reflect corporate policy at all. I’d suggest writing to their head office and complaining. Starbucks is a very marketing savy company – they will take action if they perceive that there is enough impact.”

Starbucks Corporate Social Responsibility program:

http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/csr.asp

To contact Starbucks departments:

http://www.starbucks.com/customer/contact_forms.asp?nav=3f

John
Guest
John

The sad part is that this manager had no concept of a bike being a reasonable means of transport. She sees bikers as unsuccessful or some how a sign of non productivity, not well representing the company. Unfortunately this is far from a rouge manager, many people out side Portland think since i ride to work i must be impoverished or I just couldn’t afford a car. but when i tell them i save several hundred dollars a month by not driving suddenly they perk up.. and your in good shape? and you actually have a real job? perception…. is an interesting thing.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

There were independent cafes serving “gourmet” coffee long before McStarbucks branched out from Seattle. Starbucks had a long history of moving in right next door to a small independent cafes (they call it location demographic research)and pushing them out of business with slick advertising and price undercutting. And because they are a large corporation, they can drive up rents even if the particular location is a loss leader. First Starbucks comes in, then Jamba Juice (they have a leasing agreement with Starbucks, next thing you know there is a Gap, and the independent cafe, the independent bookstore, and any other small mom and pop is driven out by higher rents, and another locally owned neighborhood business district becomes a corporate shopping mall.

Molly stumptownsoymocha Cameron
Guest

A good point to be taken from this is that something like Bike to Work (BTW) can often be considered “preaching to the converted”.

While the Starbucks manager may be in the wrong (in our opinion) she just needs to be exposed to the cycling lifestyle and be able to accept it as a reasonable option to cars on her own terms. (whether she likes to rides bikes herself or not)

Same thing with Starbucks Inc. and the BTW challenge. Of course all the Portland bike shops, the BTA and downtown architect’s offices participated, we are all already avid cyclists.

Instead of the BTW being our own cycling ego trip, it seems like we’ve forgotten one of the biggest employers in the NW!

We should not start taking it for granted that everyone in the NW cares as much about cycling as we do.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

Hey Donna,

Thanks for the downtown coffee tips!

Lee
Guest

ericson should be made aware that starbucks sponsors a womens team.
http://starbuckscycling.com/

… and forget all her formal mgmt training and get with the program. she’s not going to last anywhere with that kind of attitude.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

For some reason, I keep envisioning Annette Benning in “American Beauty.”

Joe Planner
Guest
Joe Planner

Starbucks is supposedly a more responsible corporate employer. I’m sure if we just apply a little pressure and let them know that this is unacceptable behavior displayed by someone in a position of authority, they will rectify the situation. I will be writing a complaint to them.

Jonathan, any suggestions on who we should write to?

john q public
Guest
john q public

Cate – Thanks for posting the Starbucks links. If anyone wants to use my email to Starbucks, feel free.

“Please note that at least one Starbucks manager in Portland is participating in despicable behavior. Discouraging employees for bicycling to work is certainly not socially responsible. Please see web-link http://bikeportland.org/2006/10/17/starbucks-employee-says-his-manager-discouraged-bike-use/ . Until this matter is resolved, I will be encouraging everyone that I know to choose a coffee company that truly cares about its employees and the community.”

Peter P.
Guest
Peter P.

Starbucks “Environmental Footprint” and Transportation policies:
http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/transportation.asp

My email below:
“I am a Starbucks customer that is reconsidering where I spend my money on coffee. A Portland regional manager has discouraged Starbucks employees from using bicycles as transportation: http://.bikeportland.org/2006/10/17/starbucks-employee-says-his-manager-discouraged-bike-use/
Bicycles are a legitimate commuting alternative to motor vehicles, and should not be considered “unprofessional”. If the story is true, the Starbucks regional manager’s actions contradict Starbucks own Sustainable Footprint policy! Please look into this allegation, and let me know if Starbucks stands by its environmental statements on transportation use.”

Amy
Guest
Amy

I used to live next door to Fabian…in fact talked about this very meeting with him the day it happened. As avid bikers, my husband and I were disappointed in Starbucks, to say the least! Congrats on the move away from a corporation that doesn’t embrace all forms of transportation…especially one that keeps our community healthy is so many ways. Bike on!

JV
Guest
JV

Whenever I get fired up about something like this, I have to remind myself that you always catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

While firing off an angry email is satisfying, it’s very likely to be ineffective (at best) or counterproductive (at worst). It’s a waste of your time and electrons.

I would respectfully suggest something like….
Dear Starbucks, Thank you for continuing to work toward a culture of corporate citizenship and responsibility. Since I know this is a priority for your company, I was saddened to learn of an unfortunate interaction between a Starbuck’s employee and his manager.
http://bikeportland.org/2006/10/17/starbucks-employee-says-his-manager-discouraged-bike-use/
Though the manager’s side of the story has yet to be told, and though her opinion may not reflect corporate policy, the perception she created is clear….blah blah blah.

You get the point. Seems wimpy? Maybe. I’m not telling you to like Starbucks, but don’t confuse the issue. If you want to advocate for cycling/sustainability/health, then mixing in a pre-existing disdain for the company only makes your message less effective.
Cheers,
JV

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

He was *allegedly* transferred because of his bike-riding. The district manager *allegedly* said those things. We have one guy’s word and no proof. Just because it’s plausible doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe the guy *was* a bad manager — how do we know? Because he said he wasn’t? Because Starbucks is a big corporation?

I’m not defending Starbucks; hell, I encourage everybody to stop going there. But not because one employee *claims* he was fired for a stupid reason. There are lots of *substantiated* reasons to not go there.

Cecil
Guest
Cecil

“Whenever I get fired up about something like this, I have to remind myself that you always catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

But as we always told my mom when she said this, “Yeah, but you can catch even more with manure.” Of course, we didn’t say “manure,” but I am trying to stay family-friendly here 😉

But seriously, JV is right – a reasonable approach begets a reasonable response. Come in with all barrels blazing and all you will get is resistance. My e-mail to Starbucks was surprisingly like what JV has suggested, and sent well before the post . . .of course, I have yet to see a response, reasonable or otherwise

No Pets
Guest
No Pets

Don’t know if it’s been mentioned, but Starbucks just bought Coffee People, FYI. You have to stick to places like Stumptown to stay local.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

Coffee People was owned by Diedrich of California anyways.

Fabian
Guest
Fabian

I felt it necessary to respond to some of the questions raised in the discussions about the article that Jonathan wrote.

First I would like to say that I was neither late or dressed unprofessionally when I attended the district meeting in question. All that can be said is that I did not allow enough time to recover from the ride. This was a point made by Frances in our discussion with HR.

I do strongly believe this is not the direction of the company but rather the action of one particular district manager. Her actions should not go unpunished yet she was just promoted to Regional Director which places her in direct supervision of even more Store Managers.

This article is just my side of the story. I can tell you that in my discussions with HR, Frances did admit to the statements made however, for obvious reasons won’t admit to that in a written statement. If legal action is taken (I am considering) maybe then we will hear their side.

My performance evaluations up to this point all indicate a performance that is in line with performance expectations.

One other comment that Jonathan left out of the article was after Ericson allegedly said,
“you should just get over riding your bike.” she then went on to say:

“if you want to go anywhere in the company you need to stop riding your bike.”

Which I felt was the worst comment made.

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

This is weird. My husband works for Tazo, who are owned by Starbucks and they are VERY biker friendly there. I think they participated in the Bike to Work Challenge. I don’t like Starbucks, but this seems like the work of one person (if true), not a whole company. There are good and bad things about big corporations, Starbucks included, but don’t make judgments because of ONE incident.

clinton rider
Guest
clinton rider

Wow.If riding to work is unprofessional, then I guess a bunch of folks are unprofessional: King County Executive Ron Sims, US Rep. Blumenauer, Portland’s Randy Leonard…me.

Jill
Guest
Jill

I am a regular visitor to site, and as it happens, a member of the Starbucks women’s cycling team here in Seattle (not an employee though). I am also an avid bike commuter and saddened that any manager would discourage an employee from commuting and helping the environment, let alone a company that I represent and employs such good people. I’ve sent an email to our team captain to see if she knows anything and if headquarters can remedy this situation if they aren’t already in the process.

I don’t know why Starbucks hasn’t participated in Portland’s BTW Day, but they are the leading sponsor of Seattle’s BTW Day . BTW sponsorship politcs?

Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention Jonathon.

Ride on,
Jill

John Boyd
Guest
John Boyd

Dang, so late to the party..

Gregg, author o post no. 6:

>Those are the days I take the bus.

Those are the days you don’t live as you believe.

organic brian
Guest
organic brian

I sure hope cyclists don’t need an ADDITIONAL reason to avoid Starbucks:
http://www.ihatestarbucks.com/why.php
http://www.organicconsumers.org/starbucks/081403_starbucks.cfm

I often go to Red & Black Cafe. They have organic, fair-trade coffee, and I don’t drink coffee but I’ve heard it’s better than Starbucks. The prices are certainly better, and you can get a discount for using your own mug. They have more comfortable seating and frequent live entertainment, and you can get a variety of healthy and totally tremendous food. While Starbucks has an impenetrable bureaucracy, at R & B I brought up that I was disappointed they didn’t have gluten-free noodles for their unbelievably good Dragon Noodles dish, and they started keeping rice noodles as an option. There is a Starbucks across the street from R & B (it seems to be Starbucks company policy to position a store near any neighborhood coffee shop and try to undercut them and put them out of business). It is rarely ever filled to even 1/4 capacity. The store loses money every month, but Starbucks will keep it running because it is their policy that customers never have to go more than X number of blocks to get to a Starbucks in their market area. As a corporate giant with huge amounts of capital at their disposal, they can do stuff like that. They didn’t much care that the neighborhood very vocally opposed them putting the store there, they want it there to serve the car-commuters passing through.

Also, “Delocator” helps you find non-corporate coffee, books, & movies. Feel free to add info about your own favorite places if they’re not already in their database:
http://www.delocator.net/

gwadzilla
Guest

that is absurd…

I would have to say that when I inteviewed for jobs years ago the topic of the bicycle came up a few times

“how will you get to work when it snow?”

well… that would be the most rational of the questions
but
I do not think that most interviews for jobs involve question of transport

in most everycase I felt that the bicycle did not help me get the job

I got none of the jobs

my resume may not have helped either

Cecil
Guest
Cecil

“how will you get to work when it snow?”

That is exactly the same question that one of the partners at my firm asked when I suggested they save the money they pay for me to park because I don’t commute by car. The funny thing is that in this town the LAST thing I would do when it snows is drive – not because I can’t do it, but because the yahoos here can’t – I have never before seen as much stupid driving as I have in Portland in a snow storm 🙂

As for the earlier comment by another poster that he takes the bus on the days he needs to look professional, it is possible to ride a bike in a dress, skirt, or three-piece suit and tie. You just need to adjust your riding style a bit . . .and if you ride slowly enough you won’t even sweat (much).

Rixtir
Guest
Rixtir

I hardly see a business advantage for Starbucks to become known as the anti-bike company. I would think that would be an image they would not like to cultivate. Perhaps the District Manager is merely enforcing her own prejudices, and her bosses are unaware of this. Perhaps they should be made aware. Perhaps they should offer an explanation to the community in which they do business…

Gregg
Guest
Gregg

My point before was that just because one person rides a bike to work, don’t expect everybody to agree with your mode of transportation. I was most particularly posting in expectation of the battle cries of “boycott starbucks!” and “get real coffee!”simply becuase the story contained . What’s the purpose of fighting them anyway? The subject of the story already mentioned that he gave up and moved on willingly!

And to post 40: I live every day as I believe and many days I believe that I don’t have enough time to ride my bike to work.

Nikki
Guest
Nikki

I am a barista at Starbucks. I ride my bike to work nearly everyday. I am saddened to read this article regarding a district manager within my company treating a coworker in such a condescending manner. I have never had a manager discourage me from riding to work. If this happened to me I would report them to the regional manager immediately. It is absolutely ridiculous to think one district manager’s opinion is the opinion of the corporation. I know others that work for Starbucks who commute by bicycle, unfortunately we did not get on the BTW challenge list. My own store has very few employees that drive to work, they either walk or bike. My store is located in downtown Portland however, so outer-lying metro area stores might have their own ethics, as many stores seem to vary by location. Starbucks does have a cycling team located in Seattle and it is also a large sponsor of the Bridge Pedal. I hope this incident is isolated and is taken care of immediately. I feel for the manager that felt he had to leave the company because of this ignorant individual.

Cate
Guest
Cate

Nikki,

Fabian reported it to HR (post 36). Starbucks knew and didn’t resolve it. And his former manager was promoted to Regional Director. They knew and they promoted her anyway.

It goes beyond “one district manager’s opinion”.

Gregg
Guest
Gregg

Cate, it seem that you believe large companies are efficient machines but they simply are not. Just because they didn’t resolve this one person’s (out of 125,000 BTW) issue does not mean that they are anti-cycling. It just means that *something* in a huge company didn’t happen as expected and it may have even been out of the official corporate policy. I’m not a big fan of Stabucks’ *coffee* but I know they are one of the more socially responsible large companies out there and that and they get props for that. And instead of focusing on their negatives, it may be nice to send them a letter thanking them for, say, extending benefits to unmarried partners long before it became “cool” to do so. Just a suggestion.

But the guy doesn’t work there anymore and has no official method of dealing with them directly which may have been a mistake. I have a similar transportation issue with my company but I’m sticking it out for the hope that they may recognize the benefits to me and all.

Reena
Guest
Reena

As much as I don’t support Starbucks, this doesn’t seem to stem specifically from a corporate view point. It looks like a personal issue from the district manager herself. People choose or can commute in various ways depending on life style choices, financial situations, location and various other factors. Mills may ride a bike to work because he likes riding or doesn’t have the means to have a car around, no one knows. This district manager needs to realize as someone with higher authority that that does not give you the right to tell anyone how they arrive to work especially if the employee makes it there in the first place. would she prefer him to walk? Run in the rain? Be late while waiting for a bus to take you all the way to Troutdale? This choice of transfering him to a farther location also boggles my mind. From what I can gather it seems like a very arrogant way of treating an employee and dispite Mills’ attempts to file a formal complaint this manager needs to be reported for lack of managing skills. Or any interpersonal skills in general.

“Buy this car to drive to work, drive to work to pay for this car..” Let’s keep it up and we’ll all be going in one loopy circle for the rest of our lives.

David Ross
Guest

It doesn’t seem very common here but it is quite possible to dress professionally and ride a bike. Check out this photo from my recent trip to Vienna, an amazingly bike friendly big city.