Count your lucky STARZ

Starbucks just announced it will provide a free online college education to thousands of its workers, without requiring that they remain with the company, through an unusual arrangement with Arizona State University. The offer is being extended to the 135,000 U.S. employees. That’s a lot of potential brain power.

In the tradition of famous word couplings — think “Branjolina” and “bromance” — let’s call this partnership “STARZ.”

In taking this step, Starbucks is signaling that they understand the power of being — and being seen as — an institution. Not the kind that cares for people who have mental and emotional problems. Nor the type synonymous with large, faceless, bureaucratic corporations. (Insurance companies come to mind.)

The kind of institution I’m referring to is the kind that underpins a company’s ability to thrive and endure. Here, from Webster’s, is the definition that counts: An institution is “an organization that has a relationship with the culture or society of which it is necessarily a part.”

Starbucks gets this imperative and its investment in higher education is how it is bringing its understanding to life. Why education? Because education is the oxygen of progress. It breeds curiosity, innovation and opportunity — the stuff society needs to stay healthy. In Starbucks’ case, an investment in education will breed profits, too.

Are there other STARZ out there? I hope so. I’d put Google on the list, along with Zappos and Whole Foods. What organizations come to mind for you? Which ones have the potential to become true institutions? Which ones never will?

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