Starbucks Corporation executive chairman and former CEO Howard Schultz announced Monday he will leave the company on June 26, ending his 36 years with the brand he led from its origins as a local Seattle chain to a global coffee juggernaut.
Schultz’s retirement was announced in a press release late Monday afternoon, after the market closed. Schultz, who joined Starbucks as director of operations and marketing in 1982 and as CEO oversaw its 1992 initial public offering, announced in December 2016 that he would step down from the position but would remain with the company as Chairman. In April 2017, then-President and COO Kevin Johnson took over as CEO.
During Schultz’s tenure as CEO, Starbucks grew from 11 stores to more than 28,000 locations globally.
“Many of you also know that I 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,” Schultz wrote in an open letter to Starbucks partners, posted on the company’s website. “Together we’ve done that, and so much more, by balancing profitability and social conscience, compassion and rigor, and love and responsibility. Because of your creativity, your hard work, and the love that you have poured into the company, Starbucks today is widely embraced and respected.”
In the letter, Schultz highlighted Starbucks’ social welfare initiatives implemented during his leadership, including offering healthcare benefits to full and part-time employees, free college tuition for employees, ethical sourcing practices, and community service programs.
During his years as CEO, Starbucks weathered numerous political controversies, including criticisms over publicly announced plans to hire refugees, disputed accusations of harming mom and pop cafes, and a myriad of media fervors over the design of holiday cups. Most recently, under Johnson’s helm, the company came under public scrutiny after the arrest of two African American customers in a Philadelphia-area store. In response, the company closed 8,000 stores on May 29 for mandatory racial bias training for 175,000 U.S.-based employees.
In the letter, Schultz called for unity and hospitality from Starbucks partners and team members, writing: “Please remember, Starbucks is at its best when our stores and offices are welcoming places for everyone. So stay true to our reason for being: inspiring and nurturing the human spirit through a sense of community and human connection. As you adhere to our core purpose, do not forget to innovate around it. Never embrace the status quo. Instead, have the curiosity to look around corners and the courage to push for reinvention.”
Schultz also announced in the letter he intends to write a book about the company’s social impact.
On Monday, the New York Times published a profile of Schultz, which included speculation that he may be planning a run for President of the United States in 2020 as a Democrat.
“I want to be truthful with you without creating more speculative headlines,” he told The New York Times in response to a question about his political aspirations. “For some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world. One of the things I want to do in my next chapter is to figure out if there is a role I can play in giving back. I’m not exactly sure what that means yet.”