A week in the life of Starbucks CIO Stephen Gillett

Strong brew, free samples and the drive-through

When Starbucks got a new CIO, they put him to work: as a barista. For a week in November 2008, Starbucks Coffee Co.'s new chief information officer, Stephen Gillett, spent the better part of the five days working at the Mercer Island Drive Thru Starbucks store. Gillett took a turn as a barista, manned the drive-thru, handed out samples to customers, assisted a patron who was trying to connect to the Wi-Fi network, and even took out the trash.

Gillett's week-long toil was part of the coffee purveyor's executive immersion program. For many years, Starbucks executives have spent chunks of their time experiencing firsthand the inner workings of the company's stores, talking with baristas on the front lines, and listening to customers' feedback on their in-store experiences. The now-formal program is more critical than ever: Starbucks is in the midst of a grueling companywide transformation brought on by a worsening U.S. recession and the subsequent drop in consumer spending. Getting a reality check—from employees and customers alike—on what's happening in stores is critical for Starbucks executives, and for the future success of the company.

As you'll see, Gillett's experience was an eye-opening one. To read an in-depth profile of Gillett's background and how he got to be Starbucks' "next gen" CIO, as well as the business and IT challenges he faces, see Starbucks CIO Stephen Gillett is brewing change.