Alfred H. Peet 1920-2007

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

I was saddened to read that Alfred Peet, the founder of Peet’s Coffee and Tea had passed away on August 29.

There was a time not so long ago in Silicon Valley, say August of 2002, when you could serve strong black coffee from Peet’s at your breakfast table and gather up enough talent to bootstrap a promising software startup. Now that Silicon Valley’s nuclear winter is giving way to another bubble, everyone wants “real salaries” and options, but back then it was enough to have a vision, offer some structure, and a pot of strong coffee.

At SKMurphy we embrace all faiths: emacs, vi, and notepad; PC, Mac, and Unix; Celtic, acoustic, and eclectic; Peet’s, Starbucks, and Stash. But reading his obituary it was inspirational to read about someone who had a vision for a substantially higher quality product than what was then available, who marshaled the resources and built the team to make it a reality. He started his business at the age of 46 in 1966, and became “the guru of the gourmet coffee revolution” according to Corby Kummer, author of “The Joy of Coffee.” and a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly. “He was the big bang. It all started with him.”

In an interview in Inc. Magazine in 2001 Peet talked about his biggest mistake, in inability to delegate.

I always had good personnel. I paid more than the going rate. But I worked too hard, because I couldn’t delegate. I wanted to oversee everything. I said, “I know exactly where I want to go, but I can’t explain every thought, every idea I have for the future of this company.” Many people left. I was burnt out, so I had to sell. Do you know what it’s like when you’ve given so much, there’s nothing left?

I sold my business. At the time, it broke my heart. Coffee was my life. Now I’m over it. I have been consulting selectively. It’s a pleasure — more like a hobby, a love for me. I don’t get paid. It’s like talking with friends. If you can’t do it on that level, forget it.

But the revolution he started continued.

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