Howard Schultz Returns to Give Starbucks ‘a Courageous Reimagining and Reinvention’


Starbucks is going back to its roots. On Wednesday (March 16), the company announced that, when current CEO Kevin Johnson retires April 4, Howard Schultz, the company’s CEO from 1986 to 2000 and from 2008 to 2017, will take on the role for a third time, stepping in as interim CEO.

Schultz helmed the business through its initial rise to prominence, and in the late ‘00s and early-to-mid teens, he led the company through the launch of its mobile app and its building of its digital foundation.

“Our success is not an entitlement. We must continue to earn the trust of our people and our customers every day by how we deliver the Starbucks Experience, how we treat each other and how we act as a responsible community member and corporate citizen,” said Schultz in a statement. “With the backdrop of COVID recovery and global unrest, it’s critical we set the table for a courageous reimagining and reinvention of the future Starbucks experience for our partners and customers.”

Johnson, for his part, took over in 2017, guiding the company through the early years of the pandemic. The company’s focus on innovation helped the chain weather the period, shifting gear to prioritize off-premises channels and boosting digital engagement such that loyalty members accounted for half of all U.S. sales during 2020.

Related news: Starbucks Q4 Earnings Show Record-High Loyalty Program Participation

“A year ago, I signaled to the Board that as the global pandemic neared an end, I would be considering retirement from Starbucks. I feel this is a natural bookend to my 13 years with the company,” said Johnson in a statement. “As I make this transition, we are very fortunate to have a founder who is able to step in on an interim basis, giving the Board time to further explore potential candidates and make the right long-term succession decision for the company.”

Despite the company’s success over the past couple of years, recent months have been rockier, and Schultz will take over in the midst of inflation, supply chain, and staffing headwinds. The company has also been facing challenges in the court of public opinion in recent months as its response to unionization efforts make headlines.

See also: More Than Half of Starbucks Sales Now Driven By Rewards Customers

On Tuesday (March 13), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against the chain, accusing Starbucks of “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees.”

“Any claims of anti-union activity are categorically false,” a Starbucks spokesperson responded to multiple news outlets.

Schultz, who will be volunteering his time in the role, receiving $1 of compensation, will help the company select and onboard the next CEO.

“As the company navigates the aftermath of the pandemic and socio-economic forces impacting the lives of all our stakeholders,” Mellody Hobson, Independent Starbucks Board of Directors chair, said in a statement, “Howard will reinforce the company’s culture, underscoring the organization’s commitment to innovating and executing on our core purpose and reason for being: to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”