As Starbucks chief of HR, Lucy Helm must address global work force’s many pressures

The coffee company’s former chief counsel can be both “supportive” and “stern,” say admirers, crediting Helm with an engaged style and commitment to diversity.

It’s hard to make an impact at Starbucks’ annual shareholders meetings, where the charismatic Howard Schultz holds forth and a surprise musical guest entertains an audience of thousands.

But Lucy Helm, the company’s former top attorney who last month became its human-resources head, did just that this past spring.

Taking the stage in March at McCaw Hall after Schultz had given his last presentation as company CEO — he’s now executive chairman — and singer-songwriter Leon Bridges had performed, Helm managed to get the audience laughing at the most mundane of meeting items.

Lucy Helm

Title: Executive vice president, chief partner officer (i.e. head of HR) at Starbucks

Former positions: Executive vice president, general counsel at Starbucks; principal at Riddell Williams law firm; assistant director and advocacy director at Center for Accessible Living in Louisville, Kentucky

Education: J.D., Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville; B.A., political science, University of Louisville

Age: 60

Family: Single

Lives in: Seattle

Volunteer work: Board of directors, Mercy Corps and Washington YMCA Youth & Government Program; Campaign for Equal Justice at Legal Foundation of Washington; Parkview Services

Hobbies: Attending outdoor festivals and fairs, reading, baking, music

Source: Lucy Helm, Starbucks

“I realize in my heart of hearts, that this is the part of the meeting that you value the most, anxiously considering the results of your shareholder vote on the proposals in the proxy statement,” she said, before riffing on her nervousness in reading important results after recent snafus by presenters at the Oscars and Miss Universe pageant.

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“So, you guys,” she said, holding up a smartphone, “if I get anything wrong, texting seems to be working, and I think tweeting is big in the administration right now, so please — let me know and I won’t embarrass myself.”

That warm, down-to-earth persona should serve Helm well as she takes on the position of “chief partner officer” — Starbucks uses the term “partner” rather than “employee” — heading human resources for a company that employs 330,000 people worldwide.

Her appointment comes at a key time as…

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