Starbucks’ New CEO Kevin Johnson Vows Not to Shy Away From Controversy

Apr 03, 2017

There’s a new boss in Starbucks’ (sbux) corner office, and he says no one should expect him to be a shrinking violet when it comes to the controversial topics the coffee company frequently wades into.

Kevin Johnson, a tech industry veteran, took the reins from long time CEO and founder Howard Schultz on Monday and laid out his vision in a series of media interviews.

That will include continuing to take stands on social issues, even at the risk of angering a subset of Starbucks’ consumers. The coffee chain has made waves and even been a target of boycotts in recent years for everything from its request to customers that they not bring firearms into its stores to vocal support in 2013 for same-sex marriage to its pledge more recently to hire 10,000 refugees in the coming years.

The reason is simple, Johnson told the Wall Street Journal : talent attraction. "One of the reasons people come to work at Starbucks is because we stand for something," he said. Johnson, a former Juniper Networks CEO, became Starbucks' operations chief two years ago on his way to the top job.

During his tenure as CEO, Schultz frequently waded into politics, even calling last year's presidential campaign a circus and making very clear he didn’t think much of Donald Trump’s politics. While it is unknowable whether the consumer boycotts caused what has been a marked slowdown in Starbucks’ U.S. growth lately, it’s clear Johnson has his hands full. The company is looking to get back to 5% annual same-store sales growth in the U.S., improve its mobile ordering service, and snag more sales from lunchtime traffic.

Earlier this year, Starbucks found itself dealing with congestion behind the counter after an app created specifically to speed up service created barista traffic jams in the drink handoff areas of some stores, hurting sales.

At the same time, despite Schultz’ continued presence—he will stay on as executive chairman and oversee Starbucks' growing chain of premium stores—Johnson made clear he would be flying solo as CEO, even though is predecessor's office is right next door at the company's Seattle headquarters. "The buck stops with me, but I am also smart enough to know that you collaborate with people to get their input on things."

Johnson will have plenty to ask his boss for counsel over: Over the next five years, Starbucks expects to open 12,000 more restaurants, bringing its total to 37,000. And while he is less outspoken by nature than Schultz, Johnson made clear he wouldn’t stay out of the mix if he felt it met Starbucks' intentions of improving the world. "I think there should be more publicly traded companies that also think about not only creating shareholder value but how to contribute in a positive way to society."

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