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Starbucks' Howard Schultz steps down from board

Howard Schultz has been named “lifelong chairman emeritus” of Starbucks.
Howard Schultz has been named “lifelong chairman emeritus” of Starbucks.

It’s the end of an era at Starbucks Coffee Company.

The coffee giant’s former longtime CEO, Howard Schultz, has stepped down from the company’s board. In a company release, Starbucks said the move was part of a“planned transition” and gave him a new title: “lifelong chairman emeritus.

Schultz, with the help of local investors, bought Starbucks in 1987 for $3.8 million. He transformed the company from a small Seattle business into a $32.3 billion global powerhouse with more than 36,000 stores across the world. He served as its CEO three times, most recently in an interim position from 2022 to 2023, before handing the reins to Laxman Narasimhan.  (Schultz also was CEO from 1987 to 2000, and from 2008 to 2017.)

“I look forward to supporting this next generation of leaders to steward Starbucks into the future as a customer, supporter and advocate in my role as chairman emeritus,” said Schultz.

In announcing Schultz’s retirement, Starbucks also said that Wei Zhang will join the company’s board, effective October 1.  She most recently served as senior advisor to China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group, and formerly led Alibaba Pictures Group as president. Her appointment comes as Starbucks is expanding aggressively in China, its second largest market after the United States.

During his third and final stint as CEO, Schultz launched the chain’s $450 million reinvention plan, which includes modernizing existing locations and opening more stores as it looks to expand and diversify its portfolio with pick-up stores, drive thru-only and delivery-only locations. 

The plan also seeks to improve relations with Starbucks employees.   Schultz, an outspoken political progressive, came under fire for taking what some saw as an aggressive approach against a union drive at Starbucks.  

“Howard’s vision, courage and deep love and responsibility for partners and this company created a blueprint for us all in how to lead through the lens of humanity,” said Mellody Hobson, independent chair. “He put partners and shareholders above himself when he returned to Starbucks as CEO in 2022, working tirelessly. On behalf of the board, I offer my deepest thanks and appreciation to him as he steps down.

Schultz, with his wife Sheri, will now turn his attention to focus on a range of philanthropic and entrepreneurial investments to create greater opportunity, accessible to all, according to the Starbucks release.  They are co-founders of the Schultz Family Foundation and emes project LLC, two organizations working in partnership with employers, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and governments to seed innovations and scale solutions that are aimed at enabling everyone to access the full promise of America.

New Director

Zhang joins Starbucks board as its ninth director, following the election of Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes Inc., earlier this year.

In her earlier role as Alibaba Group’s senior VP out of Beijing, she led teams and initiatives to grow the company’s corporate development, corporate strategy and social responsibility. Zhang has also served in similar leadership roles at News Corp China and CNBC China, where she led the company’s operations, strategy and business development. Zhang is also on the board of Ralph Lauren Corp.

“I want to extend a warm welcome to Wei, who brings essential experience in global operations, consumer technology, entertainment and corporate business development to the Starbucks board,” said Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan. “I also offer my respect to Howard as he steps down from the board. As we go forward, Starbucks will continue our journey of investment in our people, our business and the communities we serve to deliver outsized returns to all our stakeholders.”


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