We Built a Culture...Not Just a Company

By Tim Coonan, Founder of Big Shoulders Coffee

From the time it came into being we knew Big Shoulders Coffee needed to be different.  The values that we built Big Shoulders on had to be more than words on a page.  They needed to be the heart of what we do and a visible expression of who we are.  For this reason, we were determined to build not just a company, but a culture.

Recently, I have been reading a book called “Give and Take” by Adam Grant and I was struck by his discussion of how Abraham Lincoln built his cabinet.  Lincoln entered his presidency with many challenges . . .he wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, he didn’t have much political experience and he had a string of failures in his past.  It would have been easy for him to feel threatened by his political rivals and some of the thought leaders of his time.  But when he put together his cabinet those “rivals” were the people he chose.  Why?  Because Lincoln knew that he couldn’t grow and evolve as a person, and a leader, surrounded by “yes men”.  At Big Shoulders, we try to approach leadership in the same way.  From managers to baristas, we encourage everyone to have a voice and to challenge the status quo.  For example, once a week I meet with my employees and I ask them to talk about four key areas: achievements, obstacles, solutions and goals.  Then . . .I listen . . .and each time I gain new insights that can help me, and the entire team, be that much better.  

Sometimes, our best teachers can be those that teach us what not be.  Throughout my culinary career I have been fortunate to work under some amazing mentors.  Many, showed me by their own example, the qualities I wanted to grow within myself.  Others, showed me traits that I didn’t want to take root.  But both taught me what honesty really means.  Honesty is more than speaking the truth.  It is doing the right thing for no reason other than it is the right thing to do.  Everyone at Big Shoulders is accountable for their actions, myself included.  We focus on creating a positive space that encourages all to act with integrity and empowers them with the tools they need to stand behind our products and make our customers happy.  Does this mean a customer will never have a negative experience?   I would like to think so, but a more realistic answer is “probably not”.  But it does mean that we will do whatever it takes to make it right when things go wrong and keep doing everything we can to improve ourselves and our company.  

Having an open and honest culture has naturally progressed into a culture of respect.  Everyone on the Big Shoulders team is valued for who they are as people, not just employees.  There is nothing I would ask anyone to do that I will not do myself.  My title as owner means nothing to me if I am not willing to work side-by-side with my team cleaning toilets, making coffee on a Saturday or sweeping floors.  Entitlement is not an option for anyone here, especially me.  My goal is not to become “lord of the manor”.  It is to help everyone that works at Big Shoulders find their path and start their own journey just like my mentors did for me.  That is what respect is all about.

Leadership.  Honesty.  Respect.  These are more than words on a website page or blog.  They are the center of all that we do at Big Shoulders Coffee and all that we are.  It defines how we treat each other, and our customers, every day.  If you are in the Chicagoland area visit one of our locations and become part of the Big Shoulders family!