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Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz steps down, fuels speculation of US presidential bid in 2020

Schultz calls himself a lifelong Democrat and donated to the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and has been a strident critic of President Donald Trump.

world Updated: Jun 05, 2018 18:13 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Starbucks,Howard Schultz,US presidential bid
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the coffee company's annual shareholders meeting in Seattle in March 2015. Starbucks Corp. says Schultz is stepping down as executive chairman later this month of the coffee chain he joined more than 30 years ago. (AP File Photo)

Howard Schultz announced on Monday he is stepping down as chairman of Starbucks Corp, a company he transformed from a little-known coffee chain into a global behemoth, and is looking at a “range of options” including public service, which reignited long-time speculation about a presidential run.

“I’ll be thinking about a range of options for myself, from philanthropy to public service, but I’m a long way from knowing what the future holds,” Schultz wrote in a letter to employees.

He will leave the company on June 26 and become its chairman emeritus.

In an interview with The New York Times, however, he did not deny or dismiss the possibility of a career in politics as he had in the past.

“I want to be truthful with you without creating more speculative headlines. For some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world,” he said.

Schultz calls himself a lifelong Democrat and donated to the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and has been a strident critic of President Donald Trump.

“We have a president that is creating episodic chaos every single day and that is no doubt affecting consumer behaviour,” he told employees in an internal video in February last year.

And shortly after Trump issued an executive order suspending intake of refugees in January 2017, Shultz had announced that Starbucks would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. He has also been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights and has built himself a well-defined place in US politics.

Speculation has started whether he will take the plunge.

“There are already several dark horse candidates for ’20,” wrote David Axelrod, former president Barack Obama’s political strategist and advisor, on Twitter. He added, in a play on a standard coffee fare, “How about a dark roast candidate?”

The race for the Democratic presidential ticket is already underway with speculation rife about hopefuls who include former vice-president Joe Biden; senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Chris Murphy; former governors Terry McAuliffe and Deval Patrick. And, Oprah Winfrey, despite her denials.

However, there have been no formal announcements yet.

Schultz will be the first businessman to join this group, if he does jump in, posing a direct threat to President Trump, with a storyline that is similar only in their basic premise: that they are both businessmen.

Trump was born into it and prospered with the help of millions of dollars in support from his realtor father, but Shultz built it from the scratch. He bought a little-known Seattle coffee chain where he was working as a manager and turned it into a multinational franchise with more than 28,000 stores in 77 countries, a few of them in India.

He had only 11 stores when he bought the chain, where he had started in 1981. The next year he was director of operations and marketing. And he bought Starbucks from its original owners in 1987 with the support of Bill Gates Sr, the father of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

His pitch for Starbucks was unique. “The third place between home and work: a comfortable, welcoming environment that provides uplifting experiences, community and human connection”.

Schultz served as the company’s chief executive from 1987 to 2000 and stepped down to concentrate on its global strategy, while he remained chairman of the board.

He returned to the company to take over as CEO in 2008 and relinquished the position in 2017, handing over to current CEO Kevin Johnson.

First Published: Jun 05, 2018 11:37 IST