Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal / Author: Michael Gates Gill
Published in Daily Times / Saturday, November 27, 2010

Starbucks had more than coffee on the menu the day Michael walked in. A company that claims its mission is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time”, was about to offer him a choice of lifelines along with their standard latte. And the man who once hobnobbed with poets, writers and political bigwigs and jet-setted around the globe, happily ensconced in his armour of wealth and entitlement, was going to accept both.

It is not every day that a former creative director of J Walter Thompson (JWT) who has a Yale education and leads a charmed life steps down to take the place of a Starbucks barista only to find that it was actually a step up in life. As ludicrous as this sounds, How Starbucks Saved My Life insists on turning the classic rags to riches story on its head.

Michael is someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth (he is the son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill), who discovers the secret to happiness only after he crosses over to the other side of the divide doing work that, according to him, would have appalled his entitled and arrogant self. Knocked off his comfortable perch at 53, he fell a long way down, losing balance upon re-entry.

This is the story of how a fallen star who lived for work and let his true priorities go astray found his bearings in a famous coffeehouse that offers its guests (there are no customers) a rich experience, and its partners (as every employee is called) a nurturing environment.

Starbucks, an international coffeehouse chain that welcomes all new partners with coffee sampling and coffee stories is the unexpected star that upstages the mighty JWT. JWT, which is the “largest advertising agency in the US and fourth biggest in the world” is the one in need of an image makeover before this saga ends.

Working as a barista might not be everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee), but it proved to be an ideal “pick me up” for one Michael Gates Gill. Michael, or Mike as he is now known, recounts his adventures, first as the king of advertising and later as a pawn in the service industry. He reminisces about the past when his cloak of invincibility was still intact and he seemed to have a firm grip on things, yet, upon closer examination, he notices that his supposedly picture perfect life was riven by fault lines. Pondering over his background that “put him on an upward escalator reserved for those few affluent, properly educated, well spoken, well dressed peers who would never stop ascending”, he acknowledges that he would never have left voluntarily. He uses the book to condemn not just the soulless corporate machine that evicted him after 25 years of loyal service but also his lifestyle choices responsible for driving a wedge between him and his priorities. After being escorted out of JWT, he recalls how missteps were greeted by a cheering squad, fear was the driving force and clients loved to see them trip up.

At Starbucks, on the other hand, he finds that “both partners and guests agreed that everyone deserved to be treated with respect and dignity”, which is a far cry from the Fortune 500 companies he had encountered that “spent lots of money and time writing and publishing high sounding mission statements and never practised the corporate gobbledygook that they preached.”

Mike observes that his superiors at Starbucks have no problem serving subordinates, “turning the traditional corporate hierarchy upside down”. He discovers benefits at every turn, working with people who never order but request and is pleasantly surprised when guests appear to show genuine concern about partners.

The writer happens to be the original Mad Man (reference to the AMC show Mad Men about an advertising agency on Madison Avenue set in the 1960s) and bears an uncanny resemblance to its lead character, Don Draper. He does not pretend to be an innocent bystander at JWT and, afterwards, mentions that as he moved past an old colleague, he was also “moving beyond other remnants of his past more arrogant self”. He admits to his own failings (as a family man) and pleads guilty to harbouring secret prejudices; this is not just an angry rant against a corporation that left him out in the cold.

Every now and then Mike takes a break from ripping apart JWT and entertains with vignettes from their vault. Through the book he can take down his old company without worrying about lawsuits and endorse Starbucks without being dismissed as a PR man. In 2011, Tom Hanks will don the green apron to play Mr Gill in the movie adaptation of How Starbucks Saved My Life.



Gotham; Pp 272

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: Of Clarion Calls and Golden Statuettes / By Afrah Jamal

First Published in Daily Times /Saturday, March 17, 2012

Elegiac laments for a fading film industry are interrupted midway with news that could give the documentary film medium at least a new lease of life. It owes its resurrection to a young filmmaker, who mined troubling sound-bytes overheard in theatres where war, injustice or social disparity reigns supreme. Clips aired at the third Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) held earlier this year provided glimpses of her work, including the internationally acclaimed ‘Saving Face’. At the time, she had an Emmy stacked away for one documentary and was just weeks away from winning an Academy Award for another. At the time, she had been relentlessly crusading to rid societies of those anachronistic practices (among other ills) that weigh them down in the modern world. And — despite these glittering credentials — her work was largely unknown amongst Pakistanis.

The young Oscar nominee who took the stage that day would soon be the face of a bur…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

SERIES REVIEW: THE HEROES OF OLYMPUS / Rick Riordan (2013)

First Published inDaily Times / 5 Jan 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…

BOOK REVIEW: No Easy Day : The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden

First Published by Daily Times / Oct 06, 2012

Authors: Mark Owen & Kevin Maurer
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published under the Title:Signed, SEAL(ed) and Delivered



The men who paid Pakistan a hurried visit in the dead of the night typically do not leave calling cards. Or talk shop with strangers. And they are expected to shun the limelight. One broke the commandment recently. As a member of the SEAL Team 6 — Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU, Mark Owen (not his real name) had been in the downed ‘helo’ (helicopter) — the one Pakistanis discovered lying in their backyard.

His book provides a valuable timeline of events leading up to ‘Operation Neptune Spear’ in Abbottabad (or ‘Abababa’ as they insist on calling it), cutting through the official haze. With 13 consecutive combat deployments to his credit, the author paints a group portrait of America’s finest that had been handpicked for the job in an attempt to overturn the media-created hype. He calmly reasons, “If my com…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…