Starbucks president and CEO Kevin Johnson is retiring in April after 13 years with the company, including the last five at the helm.
Howard Schultz will act as interim chief executive officer until a permanent successor is named by this fall, Starbucks announced Wednesday morning.
Johnson told the board of directors a year ago he was considering retirement as the “global pandemic neared an end,” he said in a statement Wednesday. The board has been preparing for the transition since 2021, working on CEO succession planning with executive search and leadership advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates.
“I feel this is a natural bookend to my 13 years with the company,” Johnson said. “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.
“I have enjoyed every minute of the job and am proud of what we have achieved together,” he continued. “It has been an honor to serve the 400,000 Starbucks green apron partners around the world.”
Before joining Starbucks’ board of directors in 2009, Johnson worked for IBM’s systems integration and consulting business, spent 16 years at Microsoft and served as CEO of Juniper Networks, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company that develops and markets routers and other networking technology.
Johnson left Juniper Networks to focus on his health but came out of retirement at Schultz’s request, said Reggie Borges, director of corporate communications at Starbucks.
Johnson, 61, joined Starbucks’ leadership team in 2015 as president and chief operating officer. He was named CEO in 2017.
“Kevin and the entire executive team stepped up to the challenge of the pandemic and navigated one of the most difficult periods in modern history,” Mellody Hobson, chair of the board of directors, said in a statement Wednesday. “The economic certainty provided to partners during the early months of the COVID shutdown, as well as during mandatory quarantines, underscores our core values and will be an enduring legacy for the company.”
Starbucks made the announcement hours before its annual shareholder meeting Wednesday.
Johnson will stay on as a Starbucks employee and special consultant to the company and board of directors through September. He will receive 50% of his salary through that time, Borges said.
In 2020 and 2021, Johnson’s base pay was $1.55 million, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Starbucks is considering internal and external candidates for the new role, Borges said.
In his time as interim CEO, Schultz will receive $1 of compensation.
“When you love something, you have a deep sense of responsibility to help when called,” he said. “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.”
The announcement comes the same week Starbucks has committed to new goals around inclusivity, accessibility and sustainability, including a pledge to incorporate new inclusive design standards in its physical stores and to shift away from single-use coffee cups. The company also launched a pilot program to set up electric vehicle charging stations at stores along a route between Denver and Seattle.
It also comes at the same time the company is facing mounting pressure from employees across the country, who are starting union drives to demand changes to their working conditions. Workers at roughly 120 Starbucks stores have filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize. Six have voted to approve a union.
On Tuesday, the NLRB issued a complaint against Starbucks over accusations it retaliated against employees seeking to unionize their store in Phoenix. The next day, a group of investors sent a letter asking the company to “publicly commit to a global policy of neutrality and swiftly reach fair and timely collective bargains” with workers who vote to unionize.
Johnsons’ retirement and the search for a new leader are not connected to the unionization efforts, Borges said.
The union, Starbucks Workers United, said Wednesday it encourages Schultz to “put union busting behind him and embrace Starbucks’ unionized future.”