Dave Olsen

Dave Olsen

Dave, having retired in February of 2013 after 27 years at Starbucks, is still identified by many in the company as the champion for coffee quality and for the values and principles underlying everything the company does.

Dave is a 1968 graduate of Montana State University and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology.  After graduating, he served in the United States Army where he earned a commission as Second Lieutenant at the Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and was honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1972.

In 1975 Dave opened a pioneering espresso coffee bar, Café Allegro, near the University of Washington in Seattle, serving espresso beverages several years earlier than Starbucks.  Then in 1986 he joined a small team assembled by Howard Schultz, current CEO of Starbucks, in an effort to build Italian-style espresso coffee bars in busy downtown locations.  The company, Il Giornale, then acquired Starbucks in 1987, and Starbucks has expanded rapidly ever since, with thousands of locations in dozens of countries around the world, as well as a robust consumer products division.

Dave’s first role was as Director of Operations and Training.  Then in 1987 he was given complete responsibility for the coffee program at Starbucks, a role which included everything from traveling the world to source green coffee for roasting, to supervising the roasting, blending and quality of the coffee, to all coffee-related training and communication materials.  Along the way Starbucks realized that there were opportunities which required a research and development effort.  Dave was co-founder and co-leader of R&D at its inception, adding his coffee knowledge and authority to the technological expertise which was brought in from outside the company.  Through that role, Dave contributed to efforts which led to the bottled Frappuccino beverages, the VIA soluble coffee product, and many innovations in coffee brewing equipment.

In 1999 Olsen asked for and was given the authority to create the Corporate Social Responsibility Department, knitting together a cohesive, strategic and integrated set of efforts aligned with Starbucks’ aspirational values.   These efforts included coffee sourcing guidelines focusing on quality of coffee, quality of the environment in which coffee grows, and quality of the lives of those who produce the coffee.  Dave developed an early relationship with the relief and development organization CARE, leading to Starbucks being its largest corporate contributor in 1991, the first year of the relationship.  He also initiated a very robust and continuing relationship with Conservation International.  Also included in CSR were the Starbucks Foundation focusing on children’s literacy and leadership development; corporate donations; partner (employee) volunteering; environmental programs in the retail operation; and many other values-driven programs.

In 2005 Dave became a member of the Partner Resources team as SVP for culture and leadership development, and accepted the challenge to create a signature senior leadership development program, called Leading From the Heart.  These three-day retreats for twelve senior executives each session, used experiential learning and deep discussion to explore the history and values of Starbucks, and brought into focus the challenges faced by each leader and by the leadership team as a whole.  For Olsen, this program was the richest and most meaningful of all the work he has done at Starbucks.  Dave retired from Starbucks in February 2013.

Olsen’s past board service includes The Pike Place Market Foundation, a human services non-profit organization focusing on the needs of the downtown Seattle neighborhood; and CARE, one of the largest global humanitarian organizations in the US.  Currently he serves on the system board of Providence Health and Services, a non-profit multi-state fully-integrated health care system.  He serves on the advisory board of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington.  Dave is also a member of the board of Atigeo, which has developed a robust ‘big data’ platform with applications in health care, retailing, and security, among many others.  Lastly, Dave has joined the board of Eastern Congo Initiative.