Starbucks Corp’s Howard Schultz is stepping down as executive chairman of the coffee company that he helped transform into a global brand, and says that public service might be in his future.
Schultz, 64, said he is considering many possibilities.
He had endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton before the last US presidential election, and had sometimes deflected questions about whether he would run for office.
“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,” he said in a letter to employees.
Speculation has swirled for years about whether Schultz might run for US president.
While not addressing the question directly, on Monday he told the New York Times that “for some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world.”
The move by Schultz comes after he last year ceded the day-to-day duties of CEO at Starbucks to focus on innovation and social-impact projects as executive chairman.
As of June 26, Schultz is to take the title of chairman emeritus, the Seattle-based chain said, adding that he is writing a book about Starbucks’ social-impact moves and its efforts to redefine the role of a public company.
“Starbucks changed the way millions of people drink coffee, this is true, but we also changed people’s lives in communities around the world for the better,” Schultz said in his letter.
Schultz was known for aligning himself and Starbucks with issues like race and jobs for underprivileged youth — even when those efforts fell flat, such as the “Race Together” campaign that encouraged workers to talk about race with customers.
The company also long projected itself as a socially conscious company and promoted its stores as neighborhood gathering places.
More recently, as the company tried to restore its reputation after the arrests of two black men at a coffee shop in Philadelphia, Schultz said he did not want people to feel “less than” if they were refused bathroom access.
The company last week closed its US stores for several hours for bias awareness training for its employees, one of the measures it promised after the men were arrested as they waited for an associate, but had not yet bought anything.
Schultz has said his vision for Starbucks was largely inspired by the coffee bars he saw on a visit to Milan many years ago.
He had in 2000 stepped away as CEO, before returning to that role in 2008. He was credited with turning around Starbucks’ fortunes. He oversaw the expansion of the chain’s food and beverage menu and the growth of its popular loyalty program and mobile app.
Myron “Mike” Ullman is to become the new chairman of the board after the retirement of Schultz, Starbucks said.
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