Why Starbucks' Howard Schultz Says He Will Never Return As CEO

Howard Schultz is the man who just can't quit. Since his days roaming about Italy, learning Italian coffee culture, and dreaming big about replicating the experience in America, Starbucks has been his baby. Until now, he says. Though Schultz has taken the helm as CEO of the lucrative enterprise three times since 1986, he claims in an interview with CBNC that this time is different.

Growing Starbucks from a tiny, fledgling Seattle coffee roaster into today's over 33,000 specialty coffee shops, Schultz initially served as CEO from 1986 through 2000. He returned to lead the company through another phase of "the Starbucks story" from 2008 to 2017. He was wrong if he thought his work was complete after that stint. Schultz soon found another chapter, albeit a short one, left to be written: When CEO Kevin Johnson retired in 2022, Schultz was back on board again ­— literally. Along with an interim position as Starbucks CEO starting in April 2022, he also reclaimed a director position on the company's board, per Starbucks Stories & News.

So, what makes this time different? The answer seems to lie with the chosen successor.

Schultz is confident in his successor

For perhaps the first time in his decades-long Starbucks career, Howard finally uttered, "I'm never coming back again." The second half of that sentence clarifies, "because we found the right person." Airing on CNBC's "Squawk Box" show on September 7, 2022, the declaration leaves little to interpretation.

That person rising to the top spot will be Laxman Narasimhan, the current CEO of Reckitt Benckiser Group, known for its prominent hygiene, health, and nutrition brands. He has also held senior corporate positions at PepsiCo and McKinsey consulting firms. Narasimhan joined Starbucks on October 1, 2022, but will gradually phase into the CEO position by April 2023. Narasimhan, who also appeared with Schultz at the CNBC announcement, calls the transition a "structured immersion process," per Seeking Alpha. However, Schultz expressed full confidence in the soon-to-be CEO, calling him a "great, great leader" for the brand.

Whether Schultz will ultimately let his "baby" Starbucks become a full-fledged adult with no fall-back intervention from him is yet to be seen. But he declares that SBUX has record demand, is ready to play the long game, and is doing fine in spite of current inflation and labor relations issues. "Laxman is coming in with the wind at his back," he says, speaking like a man who's done his job and is letting go. Maybe.