Howard Schultz, as visible a symbol of the coffee giant as the green-and-white mermaid, is stepping away from the CEO post after shaping Starbucks into a global consumer giant. He’ll still play a part in the company’s future — but for how long?
On April 2, 63-year-old CEO Howard Schultz is stepping down from his second stint at the helm of the company he built into a global empire. The first time he left, an overexpanding Starbucks crashed into a sharp recession, and he returned to put the company back on the rails.
This time, he leaves the CEO position as questions again loom about Starbucks’ growth prospects — and about his own future as an advocate for social causes and, perhaps, a political candidate.
He’s turning over to his successor a company on stable footing, with a digital strategy that has made Starbucks a leader among brick-and-mortar retailers.
And he’s leaving a legacy of a company that strives to take care of its employees while taking on a range of social issues from race relations to the hiring of veterans and refugees.
Schultz “made a powerful brand, a powerful company, with a set of values,” said Nancy Koehn, a professor and historian at Harvard Business School. “Particularly in this second round, he’s continued to evolve the company as the world marketplace, the global residents, have changed.
“He’s an important pathbreaker in establishing a bigger social and political footprint for a public company,” Koehn said.
After stepping down as CEO, Schultz will remain at Starbucks as executive chairman, focusing on building the company’s more premium businesses, including its high-end showpiece Roasteries, and a new line of higher-end Reserve coffee shops.
He’ll be succeeded as CEO by Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’ president and chief operating officer, who has led much of the day-to-day operations since last July, when the company said Schultz would be concentrating his efforts on long-term global strategy and innovation.