As Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) continues to accelerate its plans toward making China its second home market, the company today announced a series of new initiatives aimed at further differentiating Starbucks as the employer of choice in this important market. This employee (partner) investment, together with Starbucks commitment to build thriving communities, will continue the rapid growth the company has seen in China over the previous decade. Howard Schultz, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks, will join more than 1,200 Starbucks partners and their parents and family members at two separate Starbucks Partner Family Forums in Beijing and Shanghai. Themed “Growing Together”, the event is the first of its kind for the company and it recognizes the special role Chinese families traditionally play, while highlighting the commitment by Starbucks to grow and develop its partners. During his remarks, Schultz said, “Since our inception, Starbucks has believed in building a different kind of a company, one that grows in a way that is driven by our values. Our partners are at the heart and soul of our signature Starbucks Experience, and have contributed greatly to Starbucks success through every single moment of personal connection they have built with our customers. As we expand our footprint across China, we are committed to sharing our success and continue to grow together with them and their families.” China is a focal point of Starbucks international expansion efforts, where the company has outlined a blueprint for it to become Starbucks second largest market outside the U.S. by 2014, and to have over 1,500 stores across more than 70 cities by 2015. Currently, Starbucks operates over 570 stores across 48 Chinese cities, opening on average one store every four days, with plans to accelerate that pace in 2012. Attracting and cultivating Starbucks strong pool of talented partners will be critical to realizing the Starbucks China growth story and ensuring the continued delivery of the unique and authentic Starbucks Experience that has been built on the company’s strong coffee passion and leadership in the market. To this end, Starbucks will implement a series of new partner-focused initiatives aimed at creating the best possible workplace for its partners, including a brand new learning and development concept, the Starbucks China University. The Starbucks China University will be the Center of Excellence for the company’s people development goals and aims to elevate the existing learning and development infrastructure. The effort will introduce new training modules to meet the evolving developmental needs of its retail and support center partners. This virtual training institute will encompass all areas and functions of the Starbucks China business, including retail operations and functional training, coffee and culture and leadership competency, and will incorporate both global and China training curriculums. The Starbucks China University will also potentially collaborate with academic institutions, and related Chinese government agencies, to strengthen its value proposition and offerings.