Skip to main content

End of an era at coffee giant


It’s a new day at Starbucks Corp.

Kevin Johnson officially took over as CEO of Starbucks on Monday, April 3. Outgoing CEO Howard Schultz continues on at the company as executive chairman, and will focus on the development of Starbucks’ new formats, Reserve Roasteries and Starbucks Reserve, and the company’s social impact initiatives.

Johnson, 56, a member of the Starbucks board since 2009, was appointed president and COO in March 2015. A longtime executive in the tech industry who spent 16 years at Microsoft and five years as CEO of Juniper Networks, Johnson also served on the National Telecommunications Advisory Committee under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

At the company’s 25th annual shareholders meeting in March, Schultz passed the baton, figuratively speaking, to Johnson, giving him the key to the company’s first store, in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Schultz told the audience that he had kept the key, “one piece of Starbucks,” in his pocket for almost 35 years. Starbucks currently has 26,000 stores around the globe, with plans to 12,000 more locations, including 3,400 in the United States, during the next five years.

Starbucks posted a Q&A it did with Turner before he reported for work for the first time as the company’s CEO. Here are selected excerpts:

When did you first meet Howard?

It was probably around 2001. Howard sent a letter to Bill Gates at Microsoft proposing that Microsoft partner with Starbucks to bring wi-fi to Starbucks stores in return for Starbucks promoting some of Microsoft’s consumer products. Steve Ballmer and I met with Howard and Steve asked me to take the lead working with Howard on the project. That’s how our relationship began.

At the Starbucks Shareholders Meeting this year you spoke of having “venti-sized shoes to fill.” How do you approach that challenge?

I realize that a lot of people will want to compare me with Howard, which is fine. But I’m not going to fall into the trap of trying to be Howard. I’m going to be authentic to who I am as a person and who I am as a leader. That’s number one.

Number two, I don’t think of this as a transition of Howard to me. I think of it as a transition from Howard to team. I think we have a world-class senior leadership team. We have partners in this company that have decades of experience and a passion to contribute. A big part of my job is getting the best of our partners in our company.

The third thing is Howard is still here. He’s my partner and he’s a friend and we’ve worked together for the last eight years on the Board and the last two years in my role as chief operating officer. He’s here to support me and support the company.

You’ve referenced a listening tour of stores you’ve taken over the last several months. Are there encounters that stand out for you?

One of the most powerful one was in a store in the South Side of Chicago. Six partners were sharing what brought them to Starbucks and what Starbucks means to them.

There was a woman who started her story by saying, “These are my partners and they are my Starbucks family and I love them.” She said she’d been a partner for four years. At the end of her first year of being a partner she got a call saying that her oldest child had been tragically killed in an accident. She said, “My partners surrounded me with love. They helped me raise money so I could give my child a proper burial. The Starbucks CUP Fund kicked in money to help me and my family. And my Starbucks family helped me through the worst time in my life. And I love them.” Tears were streaming down her cheeks and her partners handed her a tissue and gave her a hug. I’d just met these people and they were Starbucks partners sharing their stories

The stories I hear are so authentic, so vulnerable and so real. They demonstrate the love that partners show for each other and for our customers. Just beautiful, and they’re real.

Do you have a favorite Starbucks store?

I certainly have my home store that I go to in Bellevue. I have a store here on the 8th floor that I visit a lot! And there are so many stores I have visited around the world.

One of my favorite Starbucks stores in the world is in Kerry Centre in Shanghai. It’s a beautiful store that represents Starbucks with design aspects of Chinese culture and an amazing group of Starbucks partners.

What’s your first day of work in your new role going to look like? Will it feel any different?

It will be a special day for me, but because we’ve been planning for so long to ensure a smooth transition, it should be a pretty normal day. For me, it’s a day to reflect on the responsibility I have to the 330,000 partners in this company. For everybody else, it should just be another day at Starbucks.

To read the full Q&A, click here.
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds