A double shot of productivity

An interview with Jim Donald, CEO and president, Starbucks.

By Patricia Sellers, Fortune editor-at-large

(Fortune Magazine) -- I'm kind of a simple guy - brewed coffee, straight black. And I do my own e-mails. If anyone in our company e-mails me or leaves me a voicemail, they get a response, quickly. I'm fanatical about communicating. We have to operate like a store. Nobody likes to wait in line. My Treo is a godsend. I get 200 to 250 e-mails a day, and I respond to 75 percent of them. I'm brief, but that's better than not responding.

I also carry a hardback black binder with me. If someone says something particularly smart or not smart, I write it down so I have actual facts to use when I coach people or give reviews.

Return calls at dawn
Regular Joe: Donald (center) learned from Sam Walton the importance of listening to employees on the front line. He visits at least 20 Starbucks a week.

My day in the office starts around 6 A.M. for one reason only: It's the perfect time to reach out to people. This morning I left a voicemail for 100 regional managers. I also wrote personal thank-you notes to 25 partners - that's what we call our employees. I also signed 500 birthday cards. Everybody at headquarters gets one from me. My assistant Janet keeps track of birthdays on her computer, and I sign the cards a month ahead. I'll sign more than 3,500 this year.

Limit meetings to 45 minutes

I have gotten smarter about meetings. I now book hourlong meetings and insist we do them in 45 minutes. That leaves me 15 minutes to download ideas and check messages. By paring back my meetings, I have saved eight hours a week. Rob Grady, our vice president of the beverage category, told me we could save $12 million in productivity costs if all our senior people did it. I told my SVPs, "I want you to take your extra 15 minutes to call someone you usually do not contact every day."

Don't manage time: chart it

Every month Janet catalogs my schedule and gives me a pie chart. My ideal is 40 to 45 percent travel, 20 to 25 percent time with staff, about 8 percent walking around and sticking my head into meetings, 8 percent talking with other CEOs and business partners. I started doing this pie chart because my direct reports said to me, "Hey, where the hell are you?" I wanted to prove to them that I'm here.

Stay close to customers

Store visits are my favorite thing. When I'm in Seattle, I visit about 20 stores a week. When I'm traveling, I visit about ten a day. Whenever I go into a Starbucks (Charts), I walk right to the back of the counter, put on an apron and start talking to our partners.

You can tell how a store is doing by smelling it, so I stick my nose in the pastry display. I check out the restrooms. I did this in my previous job, as CEO of Pathmark (Charts), but I really learned it from Sam Walton, who hired me to run Wal-Mart's (Charts) Supercenters six months before he died. Sam used to say, "If you want to know what's wrong with the business, ask the front line.

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