Java and a Shot of Hip-Hop
Ken Lombard loves music. A fan of everything from vintage R&B singers Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson to today's hip-hop artists, he has eclectic tastes. It's a passion that serves him well in his day job. As the first president of Starbucks Corp.'s entertainment division, Lombard heads an ambitious venture to make the chain a destination not just for java but also for music, movies, and more.
Not so long ago, Starbucks was hardly an entertainment power player. While the company has dabbled in music--selling CDs in stores as early as the mid-1990s and acquiring Hear Music, then a Bay Area retail chain specializing in compilation disks, in 1999-- it remained a sideline. Today, that has changed. "We went from a strategy that was maybe three or four CDs a year to one that is a significant commitment to the film and music industry," says Lombard, 51, who was hired in 2004 to develop and implement this approach. Since then, Starbucks has coreleased a Grammy-winning album, launched the careers of two unknown artists, and started an XMsatellite radio channel.
First flick. Music is just the opening act. Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz has often talked about making the coffee stores a "third place"--an alternative to home and office where people can gather to relax or work. To that end, the Seattle-based coffee giant is moving to diversify its offerings for customers and forging closer ties to Hollywood. In just the past month, Starbucks has thrown its retail might behind its first movie campaign, promoting Akeelah and the Bee, a Lions Gate Entertainment film about a young girl with dreams of winning the National Spelling Bee. Starbucks also recently joined with the William Morris Agency, a literary and talent firm, to identify new film, music, and book opportunities. Plans for a book release are also in the works (Starbucks won't release details).
The moves are new territory for Starbucks, but Lombard is on familiar ground. A former University of Washington basketball player who started his career as a salesman for IBM, Lombard spent over a decade navigating the world of entertainment before coming to Starbucks. In 1992, Lombard joined former basketball great Earvin "Magic" Johnson, whom he met through a former teammate, in a venture to bring entertainment centers, retail stores, and restaurants into underserved urban areas. As president of Johnson Development Corp., Lombard worked with the Sony Entertainment motion picture group (later known as Loews Cineplex Entertainment) to create the Magic Johnson Theater chain. "He really developed very positive relationships with the senior studio distribution executives," says Travis Reid, former CEO of Loews. "They all came to not only know Ken, but if there was a film that was particularly strong in the [predominantly minority] demographic, they would reach out to see what he thought."
Colleagues also point to Lombard's strong work ethic and drive, traits he traces back to his time as a "very skinny forward" for the Washington Huskies. Lombard, who has long since put away his jersey but still enjoys watching hoops on TV, says he wasn't a natural: "You had to put in a lot of hard work." That mentality has stuck with him; Lombard says his Starbucks job has left little time for his side interests, such as real estate. "There has been a tremendous amount of time required to launch our strategy," he says. "That's where my focus is."