Howard and Sheri Schultz appeared on SiriusXM’s “Making a Leader” with hosts Pattie Sellers and Nina Easton to share the story of how they built the Schultz Family Foundation guided by a mission of unlocking potential.
Howard credits Sheri’s empathy and compassion for the foundation’s creation and its initial focus on young people who are neither working nor in school. “[Sheri] has an innate emotional feeling of responsibility for people who are suffering or who are left behind, and wants to do everything she possibly can to help others,” said Howard. “She began the foundation thinking it was going to be skewed towards opportunity youth, and that scaled into a much bigger opportunity to hire hundreds of thousands of kids for their first job.”
However, Howard and Sheri later saw a chance to create a second focus, too: Post 9/11 Veterans’ and their families as they make the challenging transition from active duty to civilian life. Today, the foundation focuses on both supporting service members before they transition, and re-integration strategies that help them and their families navigate services post-transition.
Sheri and Howard also shared their belief that we all need to take it personally and there are ways to get involved—from mentoring, to hiring veterans or Opportunity Youth, to volunteering.
Below are selected excerpts or you can listen to the full interview here.
SHERI SCHULTZ: Well, with regard to running the foundation, I take the causes, the groups we’re working with, really personally. So when I hear in an audience Q&A, “What about kids who are a little on the lazy side or who don’t want to do the work?”, I ask the question, “How can you articulate that it’s really that they don’t want to do the work and more about that they haven’t been given the opportunity, that they haven’t had a team around them to empower them and to understand and realize what their potential is?”
So I think for all of us, Howard and I deal with the specific work we do differently, but he’s helped me a great deal as I have him, because I’m more one-on-one, and Howard is, when he’s building a company that’s the size that it was, he had to see it from 10,000 feet up. So, top-to-bottom, and I’m probably more bottom-to-top.
PATTIE SELLERS: So you both have a bias for action, but you kind of activate differently, and catalyze differently. And it seems to work as you both balance each other out?
SHERI SCHULTZ: Very much so.
HOWARD SCHULTZ: Can I add something? Twenty years ago or even more, Sheri was in the streets at night in Seattle, Washington. There’s no cameras, there was no press release, there was no infrastructure, she’s doing something out of compassion, and empathy, and a desire to help one person. And I think leadership is about many different things, but it’s also mostly about helping one person, if you can help one person. And the foundation, which has now become a big organization with a fair amount of infrastructure, and much bigger than we ever imagined, started with Sheri Schultz in the street, helping kids who were homeless. That’s how it started. And I think that goes back to the core purpose of just her compassion and her personal empathy.
On the foundation’s work with Opportunity Youth:
SHERI SCHULTZ: I’ll tell you another story. I was in Harlem, early on with the foundation, and I was sitting at a YouthBuild, which is a really large nonprofit, I think they’re in 22 countries in the world. And I was at a table with about 17 young kids that had come in from the streets. Some of them were from bad foster care, families that were broken up, multiple placements in different homes, aunties and grandmothers, and ultimately they dropped out of school because they couldn’t keep up.
They were embarrassed, and if they couldn’t take a shower, they looked homeless, so the combination just took them to the streets. I watched them in this room talk about what their experience had been coming into YouthBuild, and how they felt like they were good, like they could accomplish something the first time they realized success. And it was magical to see it.
On the foundation’s work with Post 9/11 Veterans:
HOWARD SCHULTZ: I had the great fortune of having Secretary Gates on the Starbucks board for the last decade. And Secretary Gates came to me and said, “I want to talk to you and Sheri about the challenge of Post 9/11 Veterans coming home, a million plus in the next few years – This is going back 2 years ago. These people are coming home, not only without a parade, but with a lack of understanding from the American people. Because less than 1 percent of American people basically have had any skin in the game in the people who have worn the cloth of the nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ninety-nine percent of the American people have not been directly involved in who have served. And so, when Secretary Gates sat down with Sheri and I and explained all of this, I immediately said to Sheri, and to Daniel who runs the foundation with Sheri, “I think there’s an opportunity to create a second plank, a second foundational focus.” And in fact, we began to see some similar threads. They weren’t exactly the same, but they mirrored each other in a way – these kids who were not in school and not in work, and didn’t have a chance, misunderstood, of great value to our society, great resources, and fantastic people, and then Post 9/11 Veterans who needed a transition.
PATTIE SELLERS: And don’t know how to apply for a job.
SHERI SCHULTZ: No, many of them have never had a job in civilian life.
HOWARD SCHULTZ: And Sheri and I sat in a focus group, and she can tell the story as well, where we were visiting bases and we were sitting down with veterans who were transitioning out. And like everything else we really did our homework and due diligence and tried to understand all of this. So we were in a focus group and a young soldier stood up and said, and we couldn’t believe these words, he said, “I have more anxiety about going to a job interview than I have to go back to Iraq on another deployment.” And we heard that and we said, “Did he just say that?” And I think that was the impetus to say, “We have to do something.”
And I’ll let Sheri pick it up from here, but basically the foundation is now a force for positive change for Opportunity Youth as well as Post 9/11 Veterans, and the work we’ve done I’m so incredibly proud of, and Sheri and Daniel deserve all the credit in the world, and it was Secretary Gates who was the impetus who kind of brought this to us.
On the importance of partnerships:
SHERI SCHULTZ: I would add something to that, and it’s that the success of the foundation has been about collaboration. It’s working with other companies. We have close to 50 business that have really started buying into understanding that you don’t just offer a job to a young person, but you buy into the mentoring and the services that are necessary to make this young person successful. So that’s part one.
Part two, in the veterans’ initiative, we have over 100 companies that are participating in hiring transitioning veterans. And what I’ll say is that if you want to take something national, and you want it to be successful, communities need to understand what the issues are, and then buy into the programs, become part of it. And then it’s a process, you just see change right in front of you, and that’s what’s happening for us.