Howard Schultz Returns as Interim Starbucks CEO as Kevin Johnson Steps Down

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will lead the coffee company once again after the current chief executive retires next month

Longtime former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will lead the coffee behemoth once again after the current chief executive retires next month, the company announced Wednesday.

Kevin Johnson said he will step down on April 4 after five years as president and CEO and 13 years with Starbucks. Johnson, a former executive at Juniper Networks and Microsoft, succeeded Schultz as CEO in 2017.

Schultz, who helped turn the company into a global giant during his 30-year tenure, will assume the title of interim CEO as the company board searches for a permanent replacement. Schultz, 68, is taking on the position as a volunteer, the company said, and will receive $1 in compensation. He will also be rejoining the Starbucks board.

In a letter posted to the Starbucks website, Johnson indicated that he was already looking forward to his post-corporate life.

“A year ago, I signaled to the Board that as the global pandemic neared an end, I would be considering retirement from Starbucks,” Johnson wrote. “I feel this is a natural bookend to my 13 years with the company.”

He added, “As I make this transition, we are very fortunate to have a founder who is able to step in on an interim basis, giving the Board time to further explore potential candidates and make the right long-term succession decision for the company.”

Johnson will continue to serve as a Starbucks partner and special consultant to the company and board of directors through September, the company said.

This is the third time Schultz will lead the Seattle-based corp. as CEO, Al Jazeera reports. He stepped down from the role in 2000 and became Starbucks’ chairman, but reclaimed the title during the 2008 recession. Schultz stepped down again in 2017 to become the company’s chairman in 2018.

Schultz said he had not planned to return to Starbucks, but he understands that the company must “transform once again.”

“Our success is not an entitlement,” he said in his statement. “We must continue to earn the trust of our people and our customers every day by how we deliver the Starbucks Experience, how we treat each other and how we act as a responsible community member and corporate citizen. With the backdrop of COVID recovery and global unrest, its critical we set the table for a courageous reimagining and reinvention of the future Starbucks experience for our partners and customers.”

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