Starbucks chief Howard Schultz has said he will step down this month, according to an announcement from the company on Monday. Chief Executive Kevin Johnson, who has worked closely with Schulz, will take over as corporate executive, according to Reuters. He will need to meet a range of challenges facing Starbucks, including increased competition, reduced growth in the US market, and the complexities of a large-scale expansion in China.
Schultz will depart June 26th, resigning from the company’s board to be named chairman emeritus.
On the one hand, the move raises questions for investors. Schultz has run the company for four decades and was crucial to the development of the distinctive corporate culture of Starbucks.
“It removes a perceived leadership ‘safety net’ and creates a degree of uncertainty at a time when Starbucks faces a number of challenges,” according to Andrew Strelzik, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets.
But Schultz may have broader goals on the horizon. The move comes amid heightened speculation over Schultz’s intentions to run for US president in 2020. While some observers have predicted such a move for years, Schultz has largely denied intentions to run – until a CNN interview last week, and a New York Times article Monday. In the New York Times interview, when asked about a presidential run, he answered:
“I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service. But I’m a long way from making any decisions about the future.”
Schultz has been outspoken on a range of highly visible social issues, including minimum wage, gay marriage, and racial tensions.
After a scandal in April, in which two black customers were arrested for trespassing while waiting for a business meeting, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores for racial bias training.
Schultz has also criticized President Donald Trump, referring to him as “a president that is creating episodic chaos every day.”
He supported Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama in their presidential campaigns.
In a statement to employees following last year’s deadly incident in Charlottesville Virginia, Schultz said:
“The moral fiber, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss. We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are at and facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.”