By Nicholas Varchaver
June 11, 2017

Good Morning.

We in the business press are often guilty of ascribing too much importance to a single person—the CEO—in a company that may employ tens of thousands of talented men and women. But there are instances in which one individual—a Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Warren Buffett—shapes not only the destiny, but the very character of a large enterprise. Starbucks’ Howard Schultz may just be another member of that elite fraternity, and he happens to be an executive whose history provides a fuller dataset than many CEOs (other than Jobs): Since he famously left Starbucks, then returned to the helm eight years later, there’s more evidence to back the contention that Starbucks with Schultz is a lot more successful than Starbucks without him.

“Howard Schultz Has Something Left To Prove,” in Fortune, explores his latest attempt to “step down,” which turns out not to be stepping down at all. In fact, this gem of an article captures a CEO, at 63, stepping sideways (to “executive chairman,” for the record, as if his title will alter his influence a whit) on a mission that seems to matter almost more to his pride than to the company’s fortunes: An attempt to re-stake its ground at the upper echelon of the coffee market, where so-called “third wave” purveyors (think Blue Bottle) now deride Starbucks as the McDonald’s of java. It poses the question “how does a notorious perfectionist who craves total control apply his perfectionism to the act of ceding control?”

Read this story for its psychological acuity (watch Schultz agonize as the professed coffee guy tries to justify the unicorn frappuccino), its telling opening anecdote (I won’t spoil it, but you’ll learn more in the first four paragraphs than you will in many multi-thousand-word articles) and its economical telling of the recent history of the coffee wars. Oh, and Schultz still may run for president, so whatever your views on his future, I don’t suggest using the words “Schultz” and “retire” in the same sentence.


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