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“According to the laws of aerodynamics, a butterfly shouldn’t be able to fly. But the butterfly doesn’t know that, so it flies.” This was Vincent Eades’ mantra when he joined Starbucks Coffee in April 1995. Three months later, Eades took flight and initiated one of the saviest coups in business history — a strategic partnership with the world’s largest air carrier, United Airlines. By 1996, Starbucks had 80 million potential new customers, all of them flying at 35,000 feet.
When Eades stepped in as senior vice president of specialty sales and marketing, Starbucks’ idea to pursue a partnership with a major airline was high on the list. Coincidentally, United had recently completed a survey that found passengers were displeased with their coffee. But it took more than happenstance for this marriage to work.
“United succeeded because of the strategic fit,” says the 38-year-old Eades, who led the courtship of the carrier. “It was important that partners meet specific criteria, such as mutual goals and a commitment to quality, service and employee management. Fact is, we turn away more business than we accept. For us it has to be quality first, profits second.”
As the leading provider of specialty coffee to North America, Starbucks has created an industry where before there was none. In a dozen years, what began as six stores in Seattle now numbers over 1,400 in 27 states. On average, more than one new store opens per business day, including locations in Asia and the Pacific Rim.
Specialty sales and marketing, responsible for fine dining, food service, travel and hotel accounts, raked in $117.6 million for fiscal 1997, which contributed 12% to Starbucks’ total revenues of $966.9 million. In less than three years, Eades has increased dollars from his division by 145% (from 1995 revenues of $48.1 million), and the number of strategic partnerships nearly four times over.
Those partners include ITT/Sheraton and Westin Hotels, Barnes & Noble, Nordstrom, Aramark and U.S. Office Products. In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz says, “Vincent has turned the specialty sales group into a professional sales force.” Eades accomplished this by training his team of 145 to aggressively search out and approach businesses that meet Starbucks’ criteria. “Proactivity is always the more successful venture,” explains Eades.
Arriving at Starbucks via a recruiter, Eades came equipped for the job. After earning a B.S. in criminal science, the Trenton State College alum decided upon a career in business and joined CBS Toys as a product manager. After leading the company into new markets and increasing sales by more than 25%, Eades headed to Kansas City, Missouri, and began a decade-long relationship with Hallmark Cards Inc.
With the greeting card giant, the Alexandria, Virginia, native made a name for himself as some one who could revamp as well as create and make a profit. In 1984, after a series of management positions in marketing and product development, Eades became general manager of Hallmark’s second-largest business unit, Christmas Celebrations. In a year, he curtailed a