Bloomberg — Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) said Chief Executive Officer Kevin Johnson plans to retire next month and Chairman Emeritus Howard Schultz will return as interim CEO, retaking the reins of the company he grew from a local coffee roaster into a global phenomenon.
Johnson, 61, is stepping down on April 4 after 13 years with the company, Starbucks said Wednesday in a statement. He had signaled to the board a year ago that he would consider retirement when the pandemic neared an end, according to the Seattle-based company.
This is the second time Schultz has returned to the company’s helm. The 68-year-old is coming back amid a challenging start to the year for Starbucks, which faces rising costs and a growing unionization movement across the U.S. Schultz will rejoin the board and handle day-to-day management in addition to helping with the search for a new leader, which the company expects to be completed by the fall.
“When you love something, you have a deep sense of responsibility to help when called,” Schultz said in the 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.”
Shares of Starbucks rose 6% at 9:38 a.m. in New York. Through Tuesday, the stock had gained 42% since Johnson took over as CEO in April 2017. That compares with gains of about 80% for competitor McDonald’s Corp. and the S&P 500 Index.
Schultz’s return is a “positive for a stock that has been under pressure,” said Andrew Charles, an analyst at Cowen Inc., in a note to clients. Charles said publicity around the unionization effort may be pushing the company to look externally for a new CEO.
Schultz was the architect of Starbucks’s expansion in the ‘80s and ‘90s before stepping down as CEO in 2000. He returned to the role eight years later and led the company until Johnson took over in 2017. When Schultz stepped down as chairman in 2018, investors worried about the company’s future.
Under his watch, Starbucks grew from 11 stores to more than 28,000 in 77 countries. The chain has 34,000 locations now. Schultz essentially ushered coffeehouse culture into mainstream America and also took it overseas, including to Asia, where the company is still pursuing aggressive growth in China.
Schultz considered running for president as an independent in the 2020 campaign but abandoned that pursuit in 2019 after finding it tough to capture the attention of moderate voters.
The billionaire since has focused on public service and philanthropy, including the Emes Project, which aims to increase opportunity and reduce inequality in the U.S.