As CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz got into the habit of signing his memos to employees, “Onward, Howard.”
The sign-off, which was also the title of Schultz’s 2011 book, reflected his passion for innovation and progress, focusing on what’s next. Under his leadership, the coffee giant embraced technology and new ideas with enthusiasm, adopting mobile order ahead, turning the Starbucks Rewards app into a big revenue generator, and even innovating in instant coffee.
“The need for constant innovation and pushing forward has never been greater than it is today … but that’s not enough,” Schultz said during a 2011 interview with the London Business Forum. “You must then have the courage to go after those things.”
But when it comes to policy and governing, Schultz seems less likely to embrace new ideas. On Sunday — the day before the release of his latest book — Schultz tweeted that he is “seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent” and appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss his potential campaign. His campaign platform hasn’t come into full focus yet but past interviews with Schultz portray a classic neoliberal eager to embrace the free-market economic policies that have dominated the past three decades.
Schultz has repeatedly said that the national debt is “the greatest threat domestically to the country.” The debt is predicted to swell dramatically under President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul, which reduced the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget estimates that the new tax code will add nearly $1 trillion of additional debt over the next decade.
But Schultz has indicated that he’s more interested in reducing the national debt through economic growth and cuts in entitlements, rather than restoring corporate taxes to previous levels.
“I would not have given a free ride to business from 35 or 37 percent to 21,” he said in the 60 Minutes interview. “It would have been more modest. But I would have significantly addressed the people who need tax relief the most … who don’t have $400 in the bank.”
Last June, CNBC asked Schultz if he would raise corporate tax rates back to pre-Trump levels. He said, “I don’t want to talk in the hypothetical about what I would do if I was president.” He then added, “we’ve got to grow the economy either 4 percent or greater and then we have to go after entitlements.”
Under Schultz’s leadership, Starbucks became an innovator in technology and employee benefits. Full- and part-time employees are eligible for healthcare benefits, retirement accounts, paid time off, and parental leave. Starbucks also covers tuition for employees who want to earn degrees through an online program with Arizona State University.
But Schultz balks at the prospect of the federal government providing similar benefits to Americans.
“When I hear people espousing free government-paid college, free government-paid health care and a free government job for everyone — on top of a $21 trillion debt — the question is, how are we paying for all this and not bankrupting the country?” Schultz told The New York Times this week.
He went further in his 60 Minutes interview.
“Every American deserves the right to have access to quality healthcare but what the Democrats are proposing is something that is as false as the wall,” he said. “That is free healthcare for all which the country cannot afford.”
It might seem like there’s dissonance between Schultz’s positions as a CEO and presidential hopeful, but they are actually quite compatible under neoliberal philosophy. He’s the perfect example of a benevolent CEO, showing that corporations will do the right thing if the government gets out of the private sector’s way.
Schultz has not formally announced his candidacy or policy platform so his past comments are the clearest indication we have of the kind of leader he would be. He plans to tour the country promoting his new book over the next few months before making his final decision. If he does run, he’ll be entering an increasingly crowded race of candidates hoping to unseat Trump.