Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, is stepping down from the coffee chain’s board as part of a planned transition, the company announced. While no specific reason was provided for his departure, Schultz, aged 70, expressed his intention to support the next generation of leaders in guiding Starbucks’ future as chairman emeritus.
Schultz’s third tenure as Starbucks’ chief executive concluded in March when Laxman Narasimhan assumed the role. During his 11-month return as CEO, Schultz worked on strategies to modernize Starbucks’ cafes, enhance relationships with baristas, and drive sales growth. He also oversaw the launch of Starbucks Oleato, a line of olive oil-infused beverages.
However, Schultz’s more aggressive stance against baristas’ unionization efforts sparked controversy and led to his portrayal as a figurehead for Starbucks’ anti-union stance. This ultimately resulted in Schultz being questioned by a Senate committee regarding the company’s alleged union-busting practices after he stepped down as CEO.
Wei Zhang will replace Schultz on Starbucks’ board. Zhang previously served as a senior advisor to Alibaba and president of Alibaba Pictures Group, bringing valuable experience from the Chinese e-commerce giant. This appointment aligns with Starbucks’ focus on strengthening its Chinese business, where mobile ordering and other trends have influenced changes in its U.S. operations.
Zhang’s extensive background also includes roles at News Corp China, CNBC China, Bain, and General Electric. She currently serves on Ralph Lauren’s board and has become the third woman on Starbucks’ nine-person board, joining chair Mellody Hobson and Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford.
Schultz had briefly left Starbucks’ board in 2018 in preparation for a potential presidential run but later abandoned the idea, having already passed the CEO role to Kevin Johnson in 2017. Despite his departure from the board, Schultz has stated that he has no intention of returning as CEO.