Commercial realtor took advantage of opportunity to meet Starbucks CEO
Jason Hughes, the co-owner of commercial real estate firm Hughes Marino, was vacationing with his family in Sydney in 2017 when the opportunity arose to bid on an auction to win a meet and greet with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at the brand’s Seattle roasting factory. “It was around 3 a.m., and here I was bidding on this meet and greet,” said the San Diego-based Hughes. A bidding war ensued, but Hughes ended up winning.
A longtime fan of Schultz and his ability to strike a balance between profit and social conscience, Hughes was eager to pick his brain about business. He also wanted to meet the man who went from the poorest projects of Brooklyn, N.Y., to pouring the most sought-after coffee in the world. Schultz’s secretary reached out to Hughes to secure a date for the meeting.
“I had one request: to bring my family with me because they’re all fans of his as well, and his secretary said, ‘Well, let me check with Mr. Schultz. I’ll get back to you,’” recalls Jason Hughes, whose tenant representation company has offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco, East Bay, Seattle, Denver, and New York. “He said, ‘Of course,’ so we set up a date to meet him at The Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle.”
“We were waiting there and [Schultz] comes in, and he’s like a celebrity. He walks into this place, which was buzzing. A lot of people recognized him, and he was so gracious to us. He said, ‘Jason Hughes, great to meet you. This is your family? What a beautiful group of people.’ I mean, the whole thing was just surreal. He’s just got so much charisma. It was intoxicating.”
While it was technically supposed to be just a 30-minute meet and greet and coffee- tasting event, Schultz spent two hours with Jason Hughes and his family.
“I’ve read all of his books and his Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul book is like my bible,” Jason Hughes said. “I have several copies, highlighted, underlined, dog-eared, and covered with sticky notes at my home in San Diego. I really admire what he’s done.”
Schultz gathered Hughes and his family and escorted them behind a barista to show them how Starbucks coffee is made. “The place was packed, and it was super awkward. Howard asked, ‘Do you want to talk coffee? What would you like, Jason?’” said Hughes. “I told him, ‘To be honest, I love the coffee, but I don’t need to be back here. Can we just grab a cup of coffee and go talk about business?’ And he thought that was a fantastic idea.”
As the bold, rich aroma of Starbucks’ Reserve coffee swirled through the air, Jason Hughes and his family went on to drink in all of Schultz’s personal recommendations, which they discussed in an all-glass conference room, nicknamed “The Fishbowl” due to its central placement and visibility in the massive tasting room.
Once they sat down, Hughes admits he had several pages of questions for him. “Howard asked me what I wanted to talk about, and naturally, I said business,” Hughes said.
“[Schultz] said that what impacted him most in his decision-making is that he would look at everything he did by viewing it through the lens of what would make his team proud, and he did this by acting as if he was putting a pair of glasses on.”
Hughes was in such awe of what he said; he wrote it down. “With every decision you make, if you can do it with the thought of, ‘Will this make my team proud?’ it’s impossible to fail,” Hughes said. “It gives me goosebumps even right now because it was so real. And I’ve used that concept myself now, and it’s become a common phrase we say and reflect on in our team meetings.” The meeting ultimately came to an end because Schultz had a board meeting that he was required to attend.
Hughes and his family exited the meeting with much more than filled-to-the-brim swag bags that day.
He’s carried Schultz’s sage advice well beyond that VIP conference room. Since that day, he has led Hughes Marino’s market expansion, thrived as a company during the pandemic, and added a Denver office earlier this year.
“This meeting with Howard was so impactful,” Hughes said. “I remember that day and think how incredibly gracious he was with his time and how interested he was in each one of my kids, what they do and what’s important to them and our company. He not only offered to make introductions, but he was also just genuinely a great guy, and I will be forever grateful for that experience. I reflect on it all the time.”