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Joe Nocera

I Hope Howard Schultz Doesn't Run for President

Starbucks’s chairman can do a lot of good, but not as a politician.

Wearing his heart on his coffee sleeve.

Wearing his heart on his coffee sleeve.

Photographer: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Before Howard Schultz came along, the most famous example of a chief executive trying to use his company for social good was William Norris, the CEO of Control Data Corp. Based in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Control Data was a highly successful maker of so-called supercomputers; by the early 1980s, it was a $5 billion company with 60,000 employees.

But Norris, who was a superb computer engineer, also believed that corporations had a social mission to improve the communities in which they operated. He took to spending about 7 percent of Control Data’s revenue on social programs, including opening factories in struggling urban areas. Alas, Norris and Control Data missed the moment when supercomputers gave way to workstations and desktop computers, and by 1985 the company was deeply in the red. Norris soon left the company, and by 2000 Control Data had ceased to exist.