Starbucks Corp.’s Howard Schultz is stepping down as executive chairman of the coffee company he helped transform into a global brand, and says public service may be in his future.
Schultz, 64, says he is considering many possibilities. He had endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton before the last presidential election and had sometimes deflected questions about whether he would run for office.
“I’ll be thinking about a range of options for myself, from philanthropy to public service, but I’m a long way from knowing what the future holds,” he said in a letter to employees.
Speculation has swirled for years that Schultz might run for president. While not addressing the question directly, he told The New York Times on Monday that “for some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world.”
Schultz’s move comes after he ceded the day-to-day duties of CEO at Starbucks last year to focus on innovation and social-impact projects as executive chairman. As of June 26, Starbucks says Schultz will take the title of chairman emeritus. The Seattle-based chain says he is writing a book about Starbucks’ social-impact moves and its efforts to redefine the role of a public company.
“Starbucks changed the way millions of people drink coffee, this is true, but we also changed people’s lives in communities around the world for the better,” Schultz said in his letter.
Schultz was known for aligning himself and Starbucks with issues like race and jobs for underprivileged youth — even when those efforts fell flat, like the “Race Together” campaign that encouraged workers to talk about race with customers. The company also long projected itself as a socially conscious company and promoted its stores as neighborhood gathering places.
More recently, as the company tried to restore its reputation after the arrests of two black men at a coffee shop in Philadelphia, Schultz said he didn’t want people to feel “less than” if they were refused bathroom access.
Last week, the company closed its U.S. stores for several hours for bias awareness training for its employees, one of the measures it promised after the men were arrested as they waited for an associate but hadn’t bought anything.
Schultz has said his vision for Starbucks was largely inspired by the coffee bars he saw on a visit to Milan many years ago. He had stepped away as CEO in 2000, before returning to that role in 2008. He was credited with turning around Starbucks’ fortunes. He oversaw the expansion of the chain’s food and beverage menu and the growth of its popular loyalty program and mobile app.
In his letter, Schultz emphasized his roots, saying, “I still feel like a kid from Brooklyn who grew up in public housing” and that he’d “set out to build a company that my father, a blue-collar worker and World War II veteran, never had a chance to work for.”
He also credited the company with “balancing profitability and social conscience, compassion and rigor, and love and responsibility.”
Starbucks said Myron E. “Mike” Ullman would be the new chairman of the board upon Schultz’s retirement. Shares in Starbucks dropped 1 percent to $56.50 in extended trading after the announcement.