Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, has stepped down from the company’s board of directors. The company announced Wednesday that the change is part of a planned transition and it comes just months after Schultz’s third go-round as CEO ended in March with the appointment of Laxman Narasimhan into the top role.
Starbucks said Schultz will remain a “lifelong chairman emeritus” of the company.
Schultz has a long and storied history with the Starbucks brand, most recently leading the company through the industry’s digital acceleration and modernized stores, while also navigating a growing movement toward unionization. He also led the company’s most recent innovation, Oleato, a line of olive oil-infused beverages, which he called “transformative.”
He bought the company in 1987 and spent the next nearly-40 years leading it through staggering domestic and international growth. There are now over 36,000 stores in 86 markets. Additionally, he guided the company through an IPO in 1992 and the stock price has since increased on a split adjusted basis to just over $96, representing an increase of approximately 36,000%, the company said.
Schultz stepped down as CEO in 2000, but returned in 2008 through 2017, when he handed the reins to Kevin Johnson. He came back on after Johnson announced his retirement in April 2022.
“As I reflect on my 41 years with the company, a foundation of love and creative, passionate customer experience has been built by over five million partners (employees) around the world who have worked in the company,” Schultz said in a statement. “My gratitude to them and the millions of stakeholders and customers that have helped Starbucks endure is beyond measure. I am enormously blessed to have experienced this journey from the ground floor at the company these many years. I look forward to supporting this next generation of leaders to steward Starbucks into the future as a customer, supporter and advocate in my role as chairman emeritus.”
His spot on the board will be filled by Wei Zhang, effective Oct. 1. Zhang most recently served as senior advisor to Alibaba Group and formerly led Alibaba Pictures Group as president. In her earlier role as Alibaba Group’s SVP out of Beijing, she led teams and initiatives to grow the company’s corporate development, corporate strategy and social responsibility. Zhang has also served in similar leadership roles at News Corp China and CNBC China, where she led the company’s operations, strategy and business development. Zhang’s background also includes senior positions at Bain & Company and General Electric. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree from Seton Hill University.
She joins Starbucks’ board as its ninth director, following the election of Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford earlier this year.
“Wei is recognized as an innovator and game changer, and we are thrilled to have her join us. Her deep experience, perspective and commitment to corporate business development will help guide us as we continue to grow as a global company,” Mellody Hobson, independent Starbucks board chair, said in a statement. “Her addition to the board, combined with Laxman’s inspiring and strategic vision, proven operational effectiveness, and deep experience in both developed and developing markets, makes me confident that our best days are truly ahead of us.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]