|Starbucks (SBUX) Chief Executive Howard Schultz is a political mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a thermal coffee-cup sleeve.
The java chain's leader told CNBC on Wednesday, "On balance, I am a supporter of the minimum wage going up," but he noted that other employers might be scared away from hiring new workers if that happened. President Barack Obama has proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 per hour from $7.25 and tying it to inflation. Conservatives including House Speaker House John Boehner (R-Ohio) argue that such a hike would stifle hiring.
Schultz's measured support for a minimum wage hike leaves his stance as cloudy as a latte, but that's basically how the man operates. While his company gained a reputation for offering health care to beleaguered baristas and earned him a trip to the White House to discuss health care reform, Schultz told The Seattle Times two years ago that he wasn't a fan of the new health care law because "the pressure on small businesses, because of the mandate, is too great."
The same year, Schultz organized 100 fellow CEOs in a pledge to stop campaign contributions until Washington came up with a plan to fix the nation's debt. Not only did the U.S. wind up with the current sequester cuts, but the pledge also proved a hollow threat as Starbucks board members on Wednesday roundly rejected a shareholder's proposal to ban company political contributions and keep it from forming a political action committee.
Schultz's entire political ideology seems based on a notion that's just starting to gain steam in some circles: Other people out there think differently than he does. For example, Schultz is fully aware that the average Starbucks barista makes $8.78 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com. That's lower than President Obama's proposal but doesn't include tips or boosts in their salaries over time.
However, instead of just ramming the idea down the throat of folks like Subway CEO Fred DeLuca, who told CNBC last month that a minimum wage hike would increase prices at his sandwich chain's outlets, Schultz just recognizes that other businesses may not be so keen on the idea. How novel.
That, of course, doesn't mean he doesn't have supporters. Washington state neighbor and Costco (COST) Chief Executive Craig Jelinek not only wants a minimum wage hike, but he would like to see it boosted to $10 to give everyone else a taste of Costco's successful employee-first business model.
The business world clearly isn't ready for that, but leave it to the chief of a company that got America to drink coffee in sippy cups to realize that smaller, slower changes might make less of a mess.