Starbucks CEO Johnson Retires; Schultz Returns for Third Time to Lead Chain

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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is retiring after five years at the helm, handing the leadership back to longtime chief executive Howard Schultz, who is returning to head up the coffee chain for the third time.

Schultz will take over as interim CEO when Johnson steps down on April 4 and remain until a permanent replacement is hired. Johnson, who is also exiting his board seat, will remain in an advisory role until September, according to a press release on Wednesday (March 16).

Johnson was recruited by Schultz to join Starbucks as chief operating officer in 2015. When Schultz stepped down two years later, Johnson was appointed CEO. Before joining Starbucks, Johnson spent 16 years at Microsoft in various leadership roles. 

“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,” Johnson said. 

“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,” Johnson said.

Schultz spent a total of 35 years at Starbucks. He was chairman and CEO from 1987 to 2000 and chairman from 2000 to 2008. He returned as CEO in 2008 as the company moved to boost performance. He stayed on until 2017 before passing the reigns to Johnson. 

“When you love something, you have a deep sense of responsibility to help when called. Although I did not plan to return to Starbucks, I know the company must transform once again to meet a new and exciting future where all of our stakeholders mutually flourish,” said Schultz. 

Schultz is volunteering his time as interim CEO and will receive $1 of compensation, according to the release.

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