SEATTLE — Howard Schultz, the outspoken executive chairman of Starbucks, will leave the company at the end of the month, bringing to an end the tenure of a socially conscious entrepreneur who turned a local Seattle coffee chain into a global giant with more than 28,000 stores in 77 countries.
Schultz’s decision to retire, a plan he said he privately outlined to the board a year ago, will most likely stoke speculation that he is considering a run for president in 2020. He is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for the Democratic Party and has become increasingly vocal on political issues, including criticizing President Trump last year as “a president that is creating episodic chaos every day.”
While Schultz, 64, typically bats away speculation about his political ambitions with an eye roll or a pithy answer, on Monday he acknowledged for the first time that it is something he may consider.
“I want to be truthful with you without creating more speculative headlines,” he told The New York Times. “For some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world.”
“One of the things I want to do in my next chapter is to figure out if there is a role I can play in giving back,” he continued. “I’m not exactly sure what that means yet.”
Asked directly if he was considering running for president, he said: “I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service. But I’m a long way from making any decisions about the future.”
Schultz said he and the board had expected to announce his departure last month, but that plan was upended after an episode at a Philadelphia store in mid-April in which two black men were arrested after waiting inside one of the company’s stores without making a purchase. Last week, Starbucks closed all of its company-owned stores around the country for four hours for racial bias training, a program that Schultz had spearheaded.
The possibility that Schultz, who has spent three decades leading Starbucks, could run for president has become far more realistic with the election of Trump, a real estate developer and reality-television star before his political career.
Trump’s successful candidacy has set off a wave of speculation about business leaders eyeing a shot at the White House. Robert Iger, Disney’s chief executive, publicly said he had been considering running for president until he struck a deal to buy 21st Century Fox. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, is also thought of as a possible candidate, and Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team, has said he planned to consider running as Republican, but would need to convince his wife first.
“She asked me if I want to stay married,” Cuban said last November.
Under Schultz’s leadership, Starbucks has waded into debates over social issues such as gay rights, race relations, veterans’ rights, gun violence, and student debt. Schultz was an early champion of the idea of a corporate executive as a moral leader as he sought to achieve what he described as “the fragile balance between profit and conscience.”
Still, Schultz cautioned against reading too much into his decision to leave Starbucks. “I want to be of service to our country, but that doesn’t mean I need to run for public office to accomplish that,” he said.
He stepped away from the chief executive role at Starbucks last April, handing the reins to Kevin Johnson. It was the second time that Schultz had made that move, having given up the role in 2000 to become chairman, only to return to the chief executive position eight years later.
His latest departure, however, is a greater separation than before. Myron E. Ullman, the former chairman of J. C. Penney, will become Starbucks’ new chairman, and Schultz will be given an honorary title of chairman emeritus.
President Trump ‘is creating episodic chaos every day.’
Schultz said he planned to work on his family foundation and write a book about “social impact work and the efforts to redefine the role and responsibility of a public company.”
Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft, whose father was the lawyer who helped Schultz buy Starbucks in 1987, said, “Howard has built an amazing organization in Starbucks, and it’s exciting to consider what he might accomplish philanthropically.”
Under Schultz, the company’s financial success has been immense. Shares of Starbucks have risen 21,000 percent since the company’s initial public offering in 1992; an investor who had put in $10,000 then would have more than $2 million today.