Howard Schultz passed the keys to Kevin Johnson on Wednesday at Starbucks’ 25th annual shareholders meeting in Seattle.
Schultz, who will step down in April after nine years as CEO, told shareholders that he’s kept “one piece of Starbucks in my pocket for almost 35 years” — the key to the company’s first store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
“I’m proud to give Kevin the key to the company and to the Pike Place store,” said Schultz, who will remain at Starbucks as executive chairman.
It was an emotional passing of the torch for both Schultz and Johnson, who joined the Starbucks board in 2009 and became COO and president in 2015. Johnson has more than three decades of experience working at tech companies like IBM, Juniper Networks (he was CEO from 2008 to 2013), and Microsoft, where he led worldwide sales for two years before running the Windows and Online Services division for three years.
Schultz praised Johnson on Wednesday for not only his tech and business experience, but also his leadership. He told shareholders they should be “very, very comfortable that the company is in extraordinary hands with a great person and a great leader.”
“Above all, he is a servant leader with a tremendous sense of humanity, compassion, and deep understanding of the human condition,” added Schultz, who will focus on strategic initiatives including Starbucks Reserve Roasteries, retail stores, and social issues.
That lines up with what some of Johnson’s former colleagues had to say when GeekWire reported on the executive change announcement this past December.
“He is a very good listener and doesn’t care where good ideas come from,” said Brian McAndrews, the former Pandora CEO who worked for Johnson after Microsoft acquired aQuantive for $6.3 billion in 2007. “His sales background makes him particularly strong at providing motivation for his teams.”
Starbucks, which has more than 24,000 stores and employs more than 330,000 people, played a short video at the shareholders meeting that described Johnson’s life and values. It featured interviews with Schultz and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who just joined the Starbucks board and was in attendance on Wednesday.
“When I think about the superpower Kevin has, it’s to really make people be comfortable in their own skin to be able to bring their best every day to what they are doing,” Nadella said during the video.
Johnson said that Starbucks holds a special place in his heart and touted the company’s ethos.
“How many publicly-traded companies have a mission statement that begin with the words ‘to inspire and nurture the human spirit’?” he asked the crowd on Wednesday.
Johnson noted his optimism for Starbucks’ future, specifically pointing to three pillars of the company: human connection, innovation, and China.
“We have the strongest innovation pipeline in the history of the company,” Johnson repeated about Starbucks, which has seen shares fall by more than 6 percent in the past year.
Johnson’s appointment as CEO at Starbucks signals the company’s continued focus on utilizing new technology at its stores around the world. While Johnson was COO, the company rolled out a handful of new tech-powered initiatives like mobile ordering and delivery, while bringing its app and rewards program to China. He’s also familiar with the company, having been a board member for the past eight years.
“I know I have Venti shoes to fill,” Johnson joked on Wednesday.
Looking ahead, Starbucks plans to open 12,000 new stores around the world (3,400 in the U.S.) and create more than 240,000 jobs globally by 2021. It is heavily focused on China, where the company opens more than one store per day and employs nearly 40,000. Starbucks also today committed to hiring 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025 and 100,000 Opportunity Youth by 2020 in the U.S. — both are expanded milestones from the original goals.