One possible disruption to Schultz’s plan at Starbucks: his own political ambition.
There were rumblings that Howard Schultz had designs on a presidential run in the last election, but he quashed them in a 2015 New York Times op-ed that stated, “Despite the encouragement of others, I have no intention of entering the presidential fray.” Still, rumors have flared up periodically, and Schultz’s transition from the top job at Starbucks (SBUX) has done little to suppress them.
Schultz has never been afraid to get political, leading the company into issues that most executives avoid: gun control, immigration, refugees, political gridlock, and marriage equality. Starbucks’ campaign to encourage customers to talk about race with their baristas backfired disastrously, but Schultz said at a recent talk that having the “courage to raise the issue” was one of the things he’s proudest of. (Kevin Johnson, the new CEO of Starbucks, has signaled that he wants to continue the company’s progressive agenda, but hints he may turn the volume down on the megaphone. “We have a strong view on taking care of people,” he says. “Others will politicize that. I’ll acknowledge that.”)
Schultz has made it clear he’s concerned with the country’s direction, and in a leaked video from February told employees that President Donald Trump is “creating episodic chaos every single day.” The Starbucks chairman is clearly focused on political developments. The day I interviewed him and Johnson in Schultz’s office, where photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy sit on the windowsill, the House was scheduled to vote on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Schultz asked a PR person twice in an hour whether the House had voted yet.
Will he run for office? “I don’t have any plans to do that,” Schultz told me, and needless to say, that amounts to something less than a no. A politician couldn’t have said it better.
A version of this article appears as a sidebar to the feature “Howard Schultz Has Something Left to Prove” in the June 15, 2017 issue of Fortune.