Cup of Joe: Scooter's Coffee CEO draws on 40 years of experience
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Cup of Joe: Scooter's Coffee CEO draws on 40 years of experience

Cup of Joe: Scooter's Coffee CEO draws on 40 years of experience

Joe Thornton kicked off the new year as CEO of Scooter’s Coffee. He may be new to his position, but he’s an old hand at franchising, coffee, and Scooter’s Coffee.

Thornton spent four decades in leadership roles with Blockbuster Video, Starbucks, HMSHost, and Jamba before joining Scooter’s Coffee as president in the summer of 2022. During those 40 years, he has been involved in operations, new store expansion, marketing/branding, employee development, franchising, and store optimization. He’s a leader who gets results. 

As a senior vice president at Starbucks, he was responsible for more than 2,400 stores and led large-scale strategy and operations. By the time he left 11 years later, the coffee giant had expanded to more than 12,000 locations in the U.S. Thornton served as executive vice president and COO at HMSHost, where he oversaw more than 1,600 food and beverage locations throughout North America, partnered with more than 300 brands, and led more than 30,000 associates in the restaurants. Thornton also served as senior vice president and COO of Jamba Juice, where he helped optimize the business and sales around speed, taste, and friendliness.

In addition to leading large-scale growth companies, Thornton has been a business consultant and authored multiple books. The Power of Or: Choosing and Doing What Matters Most was released in 2020, and The Hostility of Change: Breaking Through Deep-Seated Barriers followed a year later. His third book, The Depths of Mediocrity: Eliminating Indifference, will be released soon.

Look for Thornton to continue doing big things with Omaha, Nebraska-based Scooter’s Coffee, a brand that already has more than 750 locations. His efforts will be centered around a collaborative leadership style and strategies focused on supporting franchise owners as they grow the brand.

He says you can expect more expansion, new menus, fun offerings, and more exciting brand building during his first year on the job.

Name: Joe Thornton

Title: CEO

Company: Scooter’s Coffee

Units: 754

Age: 56

Years in franchising: 20

Years in current position: 1


What is your role as CEO? To inspire. Great CEOs are inspiring storytellers who bring the teams along for strategic and cultural journeys. I’m here to hire and direct a team of great leaders and to support our franchisees and their families.

Describe your leadership style. Collaborative, imaginative, thoughtful.

What has inspired your leadership style? Hope. I want to save the world and instill hope in those who have become hopeless.

What is your biggest leadership challenge? I’m already thinking about the next thing, and there are times when I need to slow down.

How do you transmit your culture from your office to frontline employees? Culture must be simplified and relatable to everyone in the organization. If you cannot describe your culture in an “elevator speech,” you have made it complicated. If no one can recite it, they’re likely not living it.

How can a CEO help their CMO develop and grow? It is all about strategy and brand. From there, you can unleash the CMO to create the right marketing plan.

Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions? Tough decisions best involve some level of collaboration. By definition, tough decisions often have interpersonal, cultural, or financial ramifications, so you better be sure that you are sure. Also, I believe that change is not a process; change is an emotion. Be prepared for the emotional responses sprouting from tough decisions. I make tough decisions as quickly as I can. Sitting on the decision too long often complicates the problem. If it is inevitable, get to it sooner.

Do you want to be liked or respected? Both. Both are achievable with the right balance of leadership.

Advice to CEO wannabes: You must want it for the right reasons. The title comes with a lot of responsibility, so ensure that you are prepared for the weight of that. Your decisions could impact the lives of hundreds or thousands of employees as well as other business stakeholders.


Describe your management style: Collaborative, imaginative, thoughtful.

What does your management team look like? As balanced as any team that I have ever led. Diverse in every way and with a strong command of their respective functions. Oh, they also like to have fun.

How does your management team help you lead? Collaboration. We meet every Monday afternoon for three hours and every Tuesday afternoon for three hours, and we often run out of time. We’re constantly calibrating and aligning on strategy, initiatives, and messaging. They offer suggestions and alternative ways of solving problems, and they challenge each other.

What makes you say, “Yes, now that’s why I do what I do!”? Hearing success stories from those I have helped along the way.


What trends are you seeing with consumer spending habits in your stores? There has been some softness in spending, and yet we are seeing the potential for better days ahead soon.

Are commodity/supply costs any cause for concern in your system? Fortunately, no. We have our own vertically integrated supply chain, which was a competitive advantage during the pandemic and continues to be as fractured supply chains scramble to reassemble themselves. Of course, there have been pressures on costs we cannot control that can impact us to a lesser degree.


What time do you like to be at your desk? By 9 a.m. By that time, I will have read the news and calibrated the calendar for the day.

Exercise in the morning? Always in the evening. It helps me reflect on the day.

Last two books read: My own! I am a published author of two books with a third book releasing soon. I prefer to practice leadership rather than read about it.

What technology do you take on the road? Laptop, phone, and headphones.

How do you relax/balance life and work? Love to go to the movies and concerts, write books, and play golf.

Favorite occasions to send employees notes: Every day. I send a daily inspirational message called “Cup of Joe,” and I send anniversary and birthday notes every day.


What are your long-term goals for the company? Create the opportunity for franchisees to realize their dreams. Build a brand that makes a difference in people’s lives wherever we show up.

How has the economy changed your goals for your company? It hasn’t. The industry is still growing, so if we don’t grow, it will be more of a result of what we didn’t do.

What has been your greatest success? Developing people. To look across other organizations and see other C-level executives that I had a hand in their development is very rewarding whether that is helping a franchisee building their business or someone in their career development.

Any regrets? Always. This becomes a part of continuous improvement. Learning from regrets is the most important thing.

What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months? More expansion, new menus, fun offerings, a new loyalty program, and an exciting bowl game sponsorship.

Published: May 13th, 2024

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