Coffee Star

StarbucksCan one consider Perth ‘humble beginnings’? Maybe so if you’re talking about the coffee company in the midst of taking over the world. And what does it feel like for a born and bred Western Australian boy to be driving this pop-culture juggernaut?

Peter Maslen, international president of Starbucks Coffee, is overseeing a franchise business that has grown to over 150 times its original size without spending a cent on advertising, relying instead on its ingrained institutionalism as part of modern Americana. Say “Seattle” and everyone thinks of grunge music and Starbucks.

But just like in rock ‘n’ roll, it’s a long way to the top in coffee. Since leaving his native Perth in 1972, Peter has filled his resume with some of the world’s most instantly recognisable brands. An early position at a Melbourne consulting firm provided some big-name contacts, and Peter has since been a mover and shaker with Mars Inc, KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut (the latter three operated by Pepsico-owned Tricon) across the UK and Europe. He joined Starbucks in 1999 courtesy of a headhunter.

So beside being the home of the grunge music movement, Starbucks (so much a part of the landscape there are three in a single building in one case) and the highly publicised anti-globalisation protests (not to mention Boeing Corp, and Microsoft), what’s Seattle like?

“Seattle is a very vibrant, modern city with a lifestyle not unlike Perth in its focus on outdoor activities,” Peter says, “although with such a different climate, there are other popular pursuits like snowboarding and skiing. What it does have in common with Perth is a terrific boating culture, with the highest per capita boat ownership in the USA.”

So does a former small-town Perth boy miss his roots among the elite boardrooms of the US and Europe? The biggest downside is not seeing family and friends.

“I don’t come back often enough,” Peter says. But when asked about the possibility of returning for good, he’s emphatic. “Never say never!”