Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Stepped Down Earlier Than Expected

In an unexpected move on March 20, Starbucks' incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan took over the international company about two weeks early from interim CEO Howard Schultz. Schultz had been acting as interim CEO of Starbucks since April 2022, which was his third time leading the company. Since taking the helm of Starbucks last year, Schultz has been working on the company's "Reinvention Plan" while Narasimhan shadowed him since October 1. Some of the reinvestment plans announced by Schultz were $450 million in store upgrades and an expansion of the Starbucks loyalty program. 

While acting as CEO, Schultz also had to address the effort to unionize employees at about 300 stores, which he has spoken against. On March 29, Schultz will speak before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and is expected to answer questions about Starbucks' attempt to block stores from forming unions. While Schultz will no longer be acting as CEO, he will continue to serve on Starbucks' Board of Directors and will continue to be able to advise Narasimhan.

New leadership will have to prove itself

Being able to shadow Schultz allowed Narasimhan to gain in-depth knowledge of the workings of Starbucks, said Mellody Hobson, independent Starbucks board of directors chair, in a press release. No other formal announcement was made by Starbucks as to why Schultz left his position as interim CEO early. Now as a member of the company's board of directors, Narasimhan will lead Starbucks' annual shareholder meeting on March 23, which will likely address the earlier-than-expected leadership change. The original plan called for Schultz to step away on April 1, CNN Business reported.

Prior to joining Starbucks, Narasimhan was the CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Lysol and other health and hygiene products. Before that, he had a leadership role at PepsiCo, where he worked on the company's long-term strategy, which is also something he will be tasked with in the wake of Schultz leading Starbucks.

In a letter posted on Starbucks' website, Schultz asked employees to be "stewards" of the company that he loves very much and which he considers his life's work.