The coffee giant's leader of a little over four years has done a fantastic job ensuring the company exits the pandemic as strong as ever.
August 21, 2021
One of the many things I love about Starbucks as a business is its focus on people. Former longtime chairman and CEO Howard Schultz often mused, “We’re not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.”
So when the time came for Schultz to step aside in 2017, he found a kindred spirit in current CEO Kevin Johnson, who has strived to consistently fulfill Starbucks’ vision for fostering human connection while positioning the business for sustained growth at scale and long-term success. Indeed, at the height of the pandemic in 2020 Johnson ensured the company would offer expanded sick leave and new mental health benefits, raised hourly wages for all working employees by $3 per hour, and continued to pay employees whose stores had fully closed. And he juggled all of these items while honing the company’s focus on execution — pivoting to drive-thru service and mobile ordering where possible, for example — and maintaining its quarterly dividend for shareholders along the way.
Of course, the pandemic continues to persist today, whether we’re talking about the spread of the Delta variant, vaccine distribution and approval, or geopolitical strife. But Starbucks has continued to thrive under Johnson’s leadership in fiscal 2021. Johnson, for his part, credited Starbucks’ record fiscal Q3 results last month to their “ability to move with speed and agility and to be out in front of shifting customer behaviors.” He further predicted the company is now well-positioned for what he describes as “the Great Human Reconnection” as customers flock back to Starbucks locations for the differentiated, human-centric experience they’ve come to know and love.
Call me sentimental, but I think the world needs more human-focused leadership like Johnson has consistently demonstrated. And as he successfully, admirably continues to shepherd this consumer-facing company through such an extraordinarily difficult time, I think he’s well-deserving of a potential “CEO of the year” nod.
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