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Howard Schultz Is Leaving Starbucks

Is the coffee titan actually going to run for president now?

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Starbucks Holds Annual Shareholders Meeting
Howard Schultz at Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in 2017
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

It’s the end of an era for Starbucks: Howard Schultz is leaving the company as of June 26, the company announced via press release. Schultz purchased Starbucks in 1987 and served as its prominent CEO from 1987 to 2000, and again from 2008 until 2017, when he stepped into the role of executive chairman and shifted his focus to the coffee behemoth’s high-end Reserve and Roastery endeavors. He will now assume the rule of chairman emeritus.

Schultz’s departure “will most likely stoke speculation that he is considering a run for president in 2020,” the New York Times notes. The liberal businessman, who’s been a vocal critic of President Trump, has long been rumored to run for office — though he has previously denied he intends to run for president — and was alleged as a possible labor secretary nominee had Hillary Clinton clinched the presidency. Schultz tells the Times that his future plans “could include public service” but that he’s “a long way from making any decisions about the future.”

A run for office wouldn’t exactly come as a shock. In his first book, Schultz wrote of ideas bigger than a coffee company could peddle: “I want to inspire people to pursue their dreams. I come from common roots, with no silver spoon, no pedigree, no early mentors. I dared to dream big dreams, and then I willed them to happen... I hope to inspire leaders... to aim high. Success is empty if you arrive at the finish line alone...”

In his 2014 book For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Schultz barely talks about coffee, and instead muses on the inner workings of community, leadership, and his hopes for America’s vets. Under the Obama administration, Schultz was asked to speak with a group of cadets at West Point during a visit “the week after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden.” “Watching these cadets, in their crisp gray uniforms, saluting each other as they walked along the grounds, filled me with deep pride,” Schultz wrote. “In an era when many wonder if our nation has lost its way, West Point represents all that is still good about the United States.”

Under Schultz’s leadership, Starbucks has grown to nearly 30,000 stores worldwide and continues to expand at a rapid clip, currently opening more than one store every day in China. In addition to growing the brand, the onetime CEO is largely credited with popularizing espresso drinks in America; in 1983, when he was a director of retail operations and marketing at the company, Schultz was inspired by a tour of Italian coffeehouses and persuaded the roaster to open an espresso bar. The rest is history.

The coffee giant has also embarked on numerous progressive campaigns under Schultz, including initiatives to hire tens of thousands of veterans, expanded parental leave, and the ill-advised “Race Together” cup-writing campaign. Following the company’s recent scandal in which two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store, Starbucks shuttered 8,000 of its U.S. stores on the afternoon of May 29 so staff could undergo racial bias training. According to the Times, Schultz had initially planned to announce his retirement last month, but put the plan on hold after the Philadelphia incident.

Update, June 5, 7:30 a.m.: In a televised interview with CNBC Tuesday morning, Schultz addressed several questions about the potential of a run for public office. “I think there’s a lot of people who might run for president,” he said, emphasizing that he was currently only considering his future potential as a private citizen. “And I have not focused on that. I will say that it concerns me that so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left... And I think we’ve got to get away from all of these falsehoods and start talking about the truth and not false promises.”

Update, June 4, 2:48 p.m.: This article has been corrected to reflect that Howard Schultz was not a founder of Starbucks, which launched in 1971; he purchased the brand in 1987.

Message From Howard Schultz to Partners: Onward With Love [Starbucks Newsroom]
Is Starbucks’ Howard Schultz Going to Run for President? [E]