Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan Plans To Work In Cafe Once A Month

The Seattle-based coffee empire has endured some tumultuous times in recent years as front-line employees have voiced allegations of unfair working conditions, discrimination, intimidation, and retaliation in response to employees' attempts to unionize. Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who successfully led the company from 1987 to 2000 and 2008 to 2018 — growing it from 11 to 28,000 worldwide locations — returned from retirement again in 2022 to serve as interim CEO. While industry watchers expected Schultz to right the ship, some accused him of broadcasting a disconnect between company goals and front-line workers' concerns.

On March 20, Schultz passed the torch to Laxman Narasimhan who immediately altered course, telling employees he will work one shift a month in a company-owned café. The new CEO, who joined the company in October 2022, previously worked for Reckitt, PepsiCo, and McKinsey. In order to prepare for his new role, Narasimhan spent almost six months getting to know the business — including 40 hours of barista training — before officially taking the reins.

The dawn of a new management style?

Three days into his tenure, on March 23, Narasimhan made an announcement, as reported by CNBC. In a letter to Starbucks employees he wrote, "To keep us close to the culture and our customers, as well as to our challenges and opportunities, I intend to continue working in stores for a half day each month, and I expect each member of the leadership team to also ensure our support centers stay connected and engaged in the realities of our stores for discussion and improvement."

That's a stark departure from Schultz's management style. During his recent tenure as interim CEO, Schultz made his anti-union sentiment clear as the company racked up allegations of union-busting tactics. He is set to appear before a Senate labor committee on March 29 to testify about the company's labor practices.

As Narasimhan takes the helm, Starbucks is navigating troubled waters with close to 200 company-owned locations in the process of unionizing. On the day of his promise to be a reliable presence on the front lines, Starbucks workers at locations across the U.S. formed picket lines, demanding better wages and benefits, safe working conditions, and the right to organize without fear of retaliation. Narasimhan certainly has his work cut out for him.