Starbucks names new CEO amid unionization efforts

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

Starbucks Corp. announced on Sept. 1 that business executive Laxman Narasimhan will be next to lead the company after going six months without a fixed CEO.

“I am humbled to be joining this iconic company at such a pivotal time, as the Reinvention and investments in the partner and customer experiences position us to meet the changing demands we face today and set us up for an even stronger future,” Narasimhan said in a press release.

Narasimhan holds a master’s degree in business administration in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He will leave his job as CEO of Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, a United Kingdom-based consumer goods company, to join Starbucks.

He was previously PepsiCo Inc.’s global chief commercial officer, CEO of Latin America, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa operations and CEO for the Latin America division. PepsiCo produces Starbucks’ line of ready-to-drink coffee products.

“Laxman is an inspiring leader,” Mellody Hobson, an independent chair on Starbucks’ board of directors, said in a press release. “His deep, hands-on experience driving strategic transformations at global consumer-facing businesses makes him the ideal choice to accelerate Starbucks growth and capture the opportunities ahead of us.”

Narasimhan will take over for current interim CEO Howard Schultz, whose tenure started in April. Schultz, who previously served as CEO of the company, was appointed following former CEO Kevin Johnson’s retirement.

Although Narasimhan will join Starbucks on Oct. 1, the title of CEO will not immediately transfer over to him. He will first familiarize himself with the company and shadow Schultz, who will continue his role until April 1, 2023, when Narasimhan will assume the role and join Starbucks’ board of directors.

Schultz said that Narasimhan’s history of “building capabilities and driving growth” in the economy put him in the perfect position to lead Starbucks.

“As I have had the opportunity to get to know him, it has become clear that he shares our passion of investing in humanity and in our commitment to our partners, customers and communities,” Schultz said in a press release.

Narasimhan’s appointment comes as Starbucks locations nationwide push to unionize. With over 200 locations onboard, the Starbucks Workers United union emphasizes that it is not working against the company but instead trying to improve working conditions.

The company was under fire recently for closing locations with union activity, notably in St. Louis, Missouri, and Seattle, Washington. While the company did not cite unionization as the reason for the closures, SBWU tweeted that this was “clear retaliation.”

“Starbucks wants us to believe they’re not closing us down because we unionized, but because of a restroom issue that has been going on for years,” Sarahann Rickner, a shift supervisor for the closed Seattle location, said in a press release. “This most recent action further shows how desperate and afraid Howard Schultz is.”

SBWU acknowledged the new leadership announcement shortly after it was made.

“We are hopeful that new Starbucks CEO @lakslnarasimhan will end Starbucks’ scorched earth union-busting campaign and instead choose to work with us,” SBWU tweeted. “Now would be a great time for the company to end the wrongful terminations, store closings, and other attacks against partners.”

While Narasimhan’s approach to handling the union has yet to be seen, he is looking to foster a better relationship with its baristas.

“I look forward to working closely with Howard, the Board, and the entire leadership team — and to listening and learning from Starbucks partners — as we collectively build on this work to lead the company into its next chapter of growth and impact,” Narasimhan said in a press release.