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Starbucks Chairman Schultz Rambles About Bitcoin on Earnings Call

January 26, 2018, 10:25 PM UTC

Howard Schultz dumped the equivalent of a double espresso into an otherwise humdrum Starbucks earnings call on Thursday.

In response to an analyst question about tax law, the Starbucks executive chairman detoured into a stream-of-conscious monologue about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency.

“Well, I think I have another question for you: Twenty or so years later, and the question is, the issue of do you understand and are you anticipating what could happen with cryptocurrencies? And the reason I mention this is not because I’m talking about Bitcoin, because I don’t believe that Bitcoin is going to be a currency today or in the future,” said Schultz, without explaining his pessimism.

After panning Bitcoin, the longtime coffee godfather elaborated by saying the promise of blockchain—a software technology that creates a decentralized, tamper-proof ledger—would soon result in a trusted “consumer application” for digital currency.

Schultz hastily noted that Starbucks isn’t creating a digital currency nor investing in crypto assets. But he then speculated that the emergence of a “legitimate” digital currency would depend on retail stores.

“I personally believe that there is going to be a one or a few legitimate trusted digital currencies off of the blockchain technology. And that legitimacy and trust in terms of its consumer application will have to be legitimatized by a brand and a brick and mortar environment, where the consumer has trust and confidence in the company that is providing the transaction,” he said.

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Schultz then brought up his earlier “clairvoyance” about “the Internet and e-commerce and the Amazon effect of things”—in order to suggest (you guessed it) that Starbucks was in a unique position to capitalize on the impending era of blockchain.

He wrapped up by requesting that the call’s participants not to ask the company’s CFO “lots of questions about this, because this is not something that’s in our model.”

Then, as if Schultz had not said anything, the call returned to ordinary analyst patter about income and tax strategies, leaving befuddled reporters wondering what the odd interlude was all about.

Some Starbucks observers may speculate that Schultz, who has been one of the most visionary corporate leaders in recent decades, was sketching out early plans to make the coffee company a pioneer in blockchain. Others might suggest Schultz switch to decaf.

You can find a transcript of his remarks, which came towards the end of the call, at SeekingAlpha (registration required).