September 30, 2022

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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to retire; Howard Schultz returns as interim chief

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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson at the 2017 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, a longtime tech exec who led the coffee giant since 2017, will retire next month, the company announced Wednesday.

Howard Schultz will return as CEO in an interim role on April 4 and also rejoin the board. Schultz, 68, led the company for more than two decades before handing the CEO reins to Johnson.

In a statement, Johnson said he signaled a potential retirement to the board a year ago.

“I feel this is a natural bookend to my 13 years with the company,” Johnson said.

Schultz, who ran a presidential campaign in 2019, will take a salary of $ 1 as Starbucks finds a permanent replacement.

“When you love something, you have a deep sense of responsibility to help when called,” Schultz said in a statement. “Although I did not plan to return to Starbucks, I know the company must transform once again to meet a new and exciting future where all of our stakeholders mutually flourish.”

Johnson, 61, joined the Starbucks board in 2009 and became COO and president in 2015. He has more than three decades of experience working at tech companies including IBM, Juniper Networks (he was CEO from 2008 to 2013), and Microsoft, where he led worldwide sales for two years before running the Windows and Online Services division for three years, working closely with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

Johnson was also part of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He’s involved with nonprofits such as NPower and Catalyst; supports Youth Eastside Services in Seattle; and is a board member at Seattle startup Amperity.

Howard Schultz passes the company’s key to incoming CEO Kevin Johnson in 2017 (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

During his five-year tenure as CEO, Johnson helped Starbucks adopt more digital technology as Starbucks has evolved into a tech company that sells coffee, similar to other retail giants going through digital transformation and investing heavily in the cloud.

In the second quarter of last year, mobile orders represented 26% of US company-operated transactions, up from 18% in the year-ago period.

Johnson also helped Starbucks boost its Rewards membership program, which grew by approximately 30% in fiscal year 2021 to 24.8 million members.

Former Starbucks COO Roz Brewer was reportedly expected to succeed Johnson but she left last year to become CEO of Walgreens.

Shares of Starbucks rose about 50% since Johnson took over as CEO. The stock was up more than 5% early Wednesday.

Starbucks has more than 30,000 stores and employs more than 400,000 people.

The announcement comes just before Starbucks hosts its annual shareholders meeting Wednesday. The company’s board has formed a working committee to conduct an ongoing search for Johnson’s permanent replacement. A decision is expected by this fall.

“On behalf of the entire Board, I want to express our sincerest thanks to Kevin for his leadership of Starbucks. Kevin and the entire executive team stepped up to the challenge of the pandemic and navigated one of the most difficult periods in modern history, ”Mellody Hobson, Independent Starbucks Board of Directors chair, said in a statement.

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