Howard Schultz announced on Thursday that he will be stepping down as CEO of Starbucks on April 3, 2017, handing over control of 25,000 coffee shops in 75 countries. Schultz will remain executive chairman while the CEO position is shifted to Kevin Johnson, the current Starbucks president and longtime board member.
Schultz has been an extremely visible company leader both in business and social issues, leading Starbucks in joining national movements and conversations around issues like gun violence, gay rights, race relations, and student debt.
Johnson began his career in technology, including working with Microsoft and Juniper Networks before being recruited out of retirement in 2015 by Schultz to join the Starbucks team. To prepare for his new role as CEO, Johnson has been traveling to various Starbucks locations over the past year, listening to employees’ stories and getting a feel for what their day to day work lives actually look like.
This isn’t the first time Schultz has attempted to downgrade his position at Starbucks. Back in 2000 he reduced his role to chairman and appointed James Donald as the new CEO. By 2008, however, it became evident that sales were tanking under Donald’s leadership. So Schultz fired him and stepped back into the role of CEO. Schultz was able to raise Starbucks’s market value to $84 billion, up from $15 billion when he first returned.
Some speculate that Schultz’s departure at this time is related to an interest in entering politics. He has spent a lot of time recently traveling around the country discussing the need to fix the “dysfunction in Washington,” and he is known to be a supporter of both President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
When asked directly, however, Schultz denies any intention to become a politician. “I’m all in on all things Starbucks and have no plans to run for public office,” he told The New York Times. His new duties, he says, will involve developing Starbucks’s line of premium coffee and coffee shops (Reserve Roasteries), as well as managing the company’s efforts on social issues.