Back to Starbucks: Howard Schultz returns as interim leader

‘When you love something, you have a deep sense of responsibility to help when called,’ Schultz, who bought Starbucks in 1987, said on Wednesday.

Starbucks's Howard Schultz looks on during its annual meeting of shareholders in Seattle, Washington
Starbucks, which Schultz bought when it was an 11-store operation with 100 employees, now has more than 34,000 stores worldwide [File: Robert Sorbo/Reuters]

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is returning to lead the company on an interim basis after the coffee giant’s chief executive announced his retirement.

Starbucks made the announcement Wednesday ahead of its annual meeting.

Kevin Johnson said he will retire next month after five years as president and CEO and 13 years at Starbucks. Johnson, a former executive at Microsoft and Juniper Networks, succeeded Schultz as CEO in 2017.

In an open letter to Starbucks employees, Johnson, 61, said he told the company’s board last year that he was considering retirement. His most obvious successor had been Roz Brewer, the company’s chief operating officer, but Brewer left the company in February to become the top executive at Walgreens.

Starbucks expects to name a permanent CEO by the last quarter of this year. While Schultz leads the company, he will get $1 in compensation. Schultz, 68, is also rejoining Starbucks’s board.

Schultz bought Starbucks – then 11 stores and 100 employees – in 1987. Four years later, when Starbucks went public, the chain had grown to more than 100 stores. Starbucks now has more than 34,000 stores worldwide.

Schultz stepped down as CEO in 2000 and became the company’s chairman. But he returned as CEO in 2008, when the company was struggling in the recession. He stepped down again in 2017 and became the company’s chairman emeritus in 2018.

Schultz spent 2019 testing the waters for a possible run for president as an independent. But he announced towards the end of that year that he had decided against it.

In a statement issued by Starbucks, Schultz said he had not planned to return to the company, but wants to help it transform again as the coronavirus recedes.

“When you love something, you have a deep sense of responsibility to help when called,” Schultz said.

Investors cheered the news; the Seattle company’s shares jumped 6 percent at the opening bell Wednesday.

The company’s shares are down almost 30 percent this year as Starbucks struggles with higher labor and commodity costs and weaker sales in China. Last month, Starbucks lowered its earnings expectations for its 2022 fiscal year, which ends in September.

Source: AP