New Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan, who took the reins from controversial Starbucks founder and multi-time CEO Howard Schultz in March 2023, gained a lot of internal company and external media attention for training for six months as a barista in the leadup to the company’s executive leadership change. As it turns out, Narasimhan’s training as a barista and observation of multiple stores was the basis for new changes that he will be rolling out to make store-level operations easier and more efficient.
In an exclusive interview with The Wall Street Journal, Narasimhan spoke about his journey toward learning how to make the proper latte, how he often made mistakes during his training period, and how there seemed to always be an undercurrent of tension and anxiety in many high-traffic stores, especially when it comes to keeping up with orders. In one store, Narasimhan said that he had to repeatedly apologize to customers after a store ran out of breakfast sandwiches, and noted the pressure of a café manager calling out the average time it was taking to process orders in another store. Narasimhan even burnt his hand on too-hot melted cheese while trying to rush an order.
“Having worked as a partner, it’s clear to me that there are things that we need to do,” Narasimhan told The Journal.
The new Starbucks CEO—now with a half-year of leadership under his belt — is not just combatting the pressure of long drive-thru lines or fumbling the proper latte ratios, he is also taking the opportunity to try and smooth relations between store-level employees and the Starbucks corporation. Over the past two years, a growing union movement in Starbucks has put a spotlight on not only the company’s aversion to unionization, but also ongoing tensions between the two sides of the business. One barista even told The Wall Street Journal that she thought Narasimhan’s in-store training was more akin to a photo opportunity than an opportunity to learn anything substantial.
The Starbucks CEO said that he learned a lot about the pressure and challenges baristas face daily and will begin implementing changes based on what he’s spoken with employees about and/or observed firsthand. For example, Narasimhan said they will begin cutting down on digital communications corporate sends to stores (addressing one common complaint), will get more breakfast sandwiches to stores to address shortages, and they will redesign the bags sous vide eggs come in, as these are oftentimes hard for employees to open, especially when under time pressure.
Whether or not these everyday tweaks and changes will be enough to quell not only the wave of unionization, but also growing animosity between the Starbucks Workers United union and its parent company remains to be seen, but it could be an important first step.
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