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Zuckerberg should look to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson on how to handle a crisis: Management guru Jeff Sonnenfeld

  • Starbucks is making changes following outrage over the arrest of two black men at one of its cafes in Philadelphia last week.
  • Facebook is dealing with the fallout of revelations that a political research firm was able to access the personal data of millions of Facebook users for political marketing.
  • Yale management guru Jeffrey Sonnenfeld said Starbucks' response to its crisis was "the anti-Mark Zuckerberg, the anti-Sheryl Sandberg."
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson
Getty Images
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson

Facebook executives should look to Starbucks leadership on how to handle a company crisis, Yale management guru Jeffrey Sonnenfeld told CNBC on Wednesday.

Starbucks is making quick and clear changes following outrage over the arrests of two black men at one of its cafes in Philadelphia last week. Meanwhile, Facebook took days to deal with the fallout of revelations that a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, was able to access the personal data of millions of Facebook users for political marketing.

"What Howard Schultz, but especially what CEO Kevin Johnson [have] done here has been remarkable. It is the anti-Mark Zuckerberg, the anti-Sheryl Sandberg," the Yale senior associate dean told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "They truly did lean in. Instead of writing about leaning in, they actually did it."

Last Thursday, two black men were arrested after asking to use a bathroom at a Philadelphia Starbucks.

A video of the arrest went viral. The woman who posted the video said that staff at the coffee shop had called police because the men had not ordered anything while they waited for a friend to arrive.

Starbucks sprung into action quickly. Johnson issued a public apology on Saturday and requested a face-to-face meeting to discuss a "constructive solution."

Starbucks said Tuesday it will be closing all of its company-owned restaurants in the U.S. on May 29 to conduct a racial-bias education program.

In contrast, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was silent for five days following revelations about Cambridge Analytica.

"[Schultz and Johnson's] instincts were fantastic here. They apologized. They went to the victims personally," Sonnenfeld said.

"This is different than Richard Smith of Equifax or looking at Tony Hayward of BP – these folks who hid – Micky Arison of Carnival. They didn't engage. Or, of course, Oscar Munoz of United."

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz initially defended the airline's actions after a passenger was violently dragged off a flight for refusing to give up his seat.

Sonnenfeld estimated that temporarily shutting down some 8,000 Starbucks locations for racial bias training will cost the company around $12 million. But he said it will be "well worth it," considering how costly past discrimination lawsuits have been for other restaurant chains such as Denny's.

Denny's paid $54 million to settle a 1994 lawsuit filed by thousands of black customers who said they were refused service, forced to wait longer than white customers or overcharged at Denny's restaurants nationwide.