Gill, Michael Gates 1940-
Gill, Michael Gates 1940-
Born c. 1940; son of Brendan Gill (a critic for the New Yorker); divorced twice; children: four. Education: Attended Yale University.
Home—New York, NY.
J. Walter Thompson (ad agency), began as copywriter, became executive, c. 1962-1993; consultant, 1993-2003; Starbucks, Bronxville, NY, counter worker, 2003—.
How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, Gotham Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Coauthor of Fired Up! The Proven Principles of Successful Entrepreneurs.
How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else has been optioned for film adaptation.
Michael Gates Gill, whose father, Brendan Gill, was a famous critic for the New Yorker, grew up in the midst of wealth and privilege. Literary luminaries such as John Updike sometimes visited the family home. After failing to graduate from Yale University and then wasting his entire inheritance, Gill obtained a job in advertising, where he held a lucrative position for twenty-five years before being summarily fired. Despondent, he had an affair that produced a son; his wife subsequently divorced him. For the next ten years he tried to run his own consulting firm, but this business did not succeed. He hit bottom when, in his sixties and jobless, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sitting in a Starbucks coffeehouse in Manhattan, where a job fair happened to be taking place, a sympathetic African American manager noticed him and offered him a job as a barista. The story of how he came to love his new work is told in his memoir, How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else.
Many readers enjoyed the book's uplifting message, which emphasizes the inner transformation that can occur when one finds positive work in a respectful environment. Gill describes all that is wrong in the harsh corporate culture where he spent so many years earning a six-figure salary, and he praises the nurturing atmosphere at Starbucks, where he earns relatively little but feels part of a team of equals. As Gill explained to Jen Jewels in a Fresh Fiction interview, "I was adrift, my life seemed like a shipwreck, and Starbucks offered me a way to learn how to swim towards a new shore. I found a place I had never known existed—where race, class, gender and family background mattered not at all." The job, he went on, "helped me leave behind my safe but confining cocoon of privilege and tradition for the more satisfying challenges of the real world today." Gill's story struck a chord with readers; How Starbucks Saved My Life became an immediate best seller.
Critical assessment of the book, however, was more muted. New York Times staff editor Neil Genzlinger read it as "one of the most scathing indictments of the advertising business to appear in a long time," arguing that it strains credulity to believe Gill's assertion that successful executives such as himself are, in Genzlinger's words, so "clueless about the real world" as to be unaware that black people exist and sometimes run small businesses. Refusing to buy Gill's "grating babe-in-the-woods persona," Genzlinger found the book's redemptive story unconvincing. In SF Weekly, Evan James described Gill's premise as fascinating, but added that "the revelations and newfound perspectives that you'd expect to read … never really hit home." James added that Gill's portrayal of work at Starbucks is "absurdly utopian," a criticism also made by a writer for Kirkus Reviews. How Starbucks Saved My Life "reads too much like an employee handbook," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. Bookreporter.com reviewer Bronwyn Miller, on the other hand, praised the memoir as a testament to the power of positive change and to the promise of "finding happiness, friendship and wisdom in unexpected places." Noting that Gill's new job does appear to have given him hope, Linda M. Castellitto observed in BookPage that "it will be interesting to see … whether he retains the lessons he learned as a Starbucks employee."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Beverage Industry, October, 2007, "Starbucks Saves a Life," p. 72.
Booklist, July 1, 2007, Mark Knoblauch, review of How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, p. 4.
Daily Variety, March 28, 2006, "U Pours Hot ‘Starbucks,’" p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter, March 28, 2006, Borys Kit, "Hanks in ‘Starbucks,’ Brew," p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of How Starbucks Saved My Life.
Library Journal, June 1, 2007, Sarah Statz Cords, review of How Starbucks Saved My Life, p. 127.
New York Times, September 13, 2007, Joyce Wadler, "Life Changes, with a Latte to Go."
New York Times Book Review, September 30, 2007, Neil Genzlinger, "Smell the Coffee," p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, June 4, 2007, review of How Starbucks Saved My Life, p. 41.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (February 17, 2008), Linda M. Castellitto, "A Boomer's Frothy Ode to Starbucks."
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (February 17, 2008), Bronwyn Miller, review of How Starbucks Saved My Life.
Fresh Fiction,http://freshfiction.com/ (September 5, 2007), Jen Jewels, interview with Michael Gates Gill.
Lavin Agency Web site,http://www.thelavinagency.com/usa/ (February 17, 2008), Michael Gates Gill profile.
SF Weekly, September 26, 2007, Evan James, "Starbucks Saves Life of Michael Gates Gill, Tom Hanks to Play the Barista."
Time Out New York,http://www.timeout.com/newyork/ (February 17, 2008), Kate Lowenstein, "3 Questions for Michael Gates Gill."