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Ask Dave

Ethics and integrity

Wayne wants to open a coffee business after he leaves the military, but he he's starting to have ethical concerns about his plan. Dave talks him through the situation, and comes away thinking Wayne is going to be okay.

QUESTION: Wayne will be getting out of the military soon, and he wants to open a coffee roaster in civilian life. His plan is to work for an established coffee company for a while so he can learn the business. Recently, he’s become concerned with the ethics involved in this plan, and he asks Dave for advice.

ANSWER: Making and serving coffee is not a proprietary set of information. It’s done all over the world by lots of people, so you’re not violating any ethics by doing that. Now, there’s definitely something wrong with stealing their recipes, their logo or something like that. If you go out and try to mimic and make exactly the same things they make at Starbucks, then yeah, that’s wrong.

But there’s nothing wrong with learning how to make different coffee drinks that are made all over the world. Starbucks doesn’t have a corner on that. There are coffeehouses all across America these days, so there’s no ethics breach. Just understand what’s proprietary — what’s special about the place you’re going to be working in — and don’t duplicate that.

Coffee is coffee, dude. It’s a fairly general commodity. It’s like if I decided to start making cornbread after working at Cracker Barrel. It’s a pretty generic product. I wouldn’t worry about it. The fact that you have enough integrity to even think about this means you’re probably going to be okay.

Thank you for your service, sir!