Biography records the legacy Howard Schultz built
Photo: Winn Fuqua
Leslie and Howard Schultz received the CJE’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. They are pictured here with their children and grandchildren.

‘Schultz’s Ledger’ will not disappoint

By Harriet P. Gross

A long time ago, country singer Merle Haggard crooned these lyrics: “I’m so far down, it looks like up to me…” Another long time ago, these might have been the words of Howard H. Schultz when he hit the low point of his career – but a time that ultimately led him to his life’s great business success.

This Howard Schultz is not the one who founded Starbucks, but our own Howard Schultz of Dallas, who shares a similar life story and the same ethic:  hard work pays off – big time!  “Schultz’s Ledger” is the new book that tells all about this man who found a fortune for himself by finding and correcting the mistakes of others. The subtitle makes that clear: he was “Parlaying Errors Into Success On The Path To The American Dream.” 

Our Schultz’s background is one that many of today’s Jews can easily relate to: His grandparents on both sides came to America in the 1880s, escaping Russian and Lithuanian pogroms. His father’s parents, Morris and Rose Cohen Schultz, raised six sons and three daughters in Brooklyn. Most of them worked in the garment industry, but Ben, Howard’s father, chose a different career during America’s tumultuous wartime and Prohibition days: “He was a bootlegger,” Howard admits – but without apology.

“This is not what you’d expect to hear from a trusted, straight-and narrow international businessman,” says Nina Flournoy, who wrote this book based on more than six months of conversations with Howard – two or three days every week, more than two hours at a time. Her approach was chronological; between these sessions of what Howard calls “a collaborative effort,” he gathered up the many family pictures that fill its 200 pages of text

College was Cornell. Howard didn’t know what he wanted to do afterward, but he did like math, economics and statistics, so he landed his first job on Wall Street. That ended when he went into the military as the Great Depression morphed into World War II. Always good at music as well as numbers, he served his time playing clarinet and sax in an Army Air Force band. Afterward, accounting took him to Kansas City, where he met Leslie, the love of his life. 

They came to Dallas when daughter Jaynie was very young. Leslie immediately insisted on finding a Jewish school for her, which was of course Akiba, since it was the first and only such place in the city at that time. It set the tone for the rest of their lives, inspiring the philanthropy that Howard’s success – with Leslie’s support and encouragement – eventually became the central activity of the entire Schultz family.

Moving ever upward, Howard became controller at the old Sanger-Harris department store. But there, he was blamed for the mistakes of others and had to take the fall. Suddenly, no job. He didn’t want to tell his wife that he’d been fired, so for a time he got up each morning, dressed as if for work, and went out to pound the streets. But eventually the sham had to end. When he finally confessed, Leslie then — as she always was until her death from a sudden heart attack just a short time ago —was Howard’s rock-solid supporter. Not to worry…he would find something, she told him.

And he did: quite literally!  In his accounting work, he had noticed how often businesses made unnoticed overpayments to various suppliers; such a possibility didn’t seem to occur to anyone in management, so no one was looking into it. Here, Howard found his future: He began approaching many businesses, offering to review their books, find overpayments and collect them — for a fee that would be an agreed-upon portion of what he uncovered and returned. It was something new, an idea with a bigger payoff than no one — not even Howard — had ever imagined! 

This fascinating new “treasure hunt” of a career continued for years — years during which Schultz’s sons, Dan and Andy, grew to adulthood along with their older sister. And all the while, the business grew as well, becoming a worldwide enterprise with Howard’s unique approach: He chose area managers to be independent contractors who hired their own workers, all under his management. Howard treated the entire enterprise as one large family, which at its peak boasted some 1,000 associates all over the world. Leslie became its “mother,” planning events bringing everyone — businessmen and their wives — for regular conferences that were also vacations. This was a model of Howard’s own invention: Each of his geographic areas functioned as its own business, but always under Howard’s watchful eye and benevolent direction. 

But how long could this 1,000 independent contractors’ business model last? It was time to consider a merger with a similar business with advanced computer expertise.  He was part of it for a time but finally accepted the fact that the business model he created and loved was no longer viable and he gracefully left it behind him.

So that part of the Schultz life was done. However, over those many successful years, the business had turned out to be the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg, and from it hatched something brand-new: joining with another family equally invested in Jewish education came today’s Schultz-Rosenberg campus for two of the country’s best recognized Jewish schools, right here in Dallas: Akiba and Yavneh Academies. A high point of the book is its precise description of all elements on the schools’ grounds, each of which has a Biblical or later Jewish meaning built into it. Jewish education remains a focus of his philanthropic philosophy. He and Leslie established the Schultz Fellows through the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the community organization he once led as board chair.

All this is the just bare-bones that are fully fleshed out in “Schultz’s Ledger.” Howard is incredibly honest in laying himself open, fully acknowledging his failures as well as his triumphs, telling his story — warts and all, recognizing and admitting his short-sightedness in assessing emerging technologies, fully sharing all his business disappointments along with its many high points. Readers of this book will get the whole story, the tale of an honest man who’s not afraid to talk about his agonies and sorrows along with his many very real accomplishments. 

So why such a book now?  Why at all?  “I’ve always been a family man,” Howard says. “The kids will read this.” So will his 10 grandchildren, who will learn from it all of their impressive family history. 

He also says that “The role of technology in our lives is not going to change,” acknowledging that today he himself is learning to learn from his own children. His only regret is that his late wife never had a chance to read the book, to see all of this in one place. Its story is “not just about my business,” Howard emphasizes, “but my life.” For this reason, he has dedicated his book to the memory of Leslie, “the love of my life for 57 years, who not only supported my business endeavor, but helped in so many ways to make it successful.” 

“Schultz’s Ledger,” which follows a timeline from the Great Depression through 2019, is now available from Amazon. Read it to learn about a remarkable man who walks quietly in our midst, still accomplishing much as he continues to live his crowning achievement: The American Dream.

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