In a few weeks, Howard Schultz will be stepping down as CEO of Starbucks, a move that was first announced in December. An outspoken Democrat, Schultz made headlines in late January by loudly condemning Donald Trump's first travel ban. In his rebuke of Trump, Schultz announced that Starbucks was committing to hiring 10,000 refugees, a statement that appears to have damaged the company's popularity and sales — but endeared Schultz even more to Democrats, who are "definitely" pursuing him as a presidential candidate for 2020.
When the firestorm over Trump's first executive order on immigration and refugees was in full force, Schultz added his voice to the chorus of leftists decrying the order as inhumane and un-American, but took it further by vowing that Starbucks was committing to a self-imposed quota of hiring 10,000 refugees over the next five years. Here is how he began his lengthy response to Trump's order:
I write to you today with deep concern, a heavy heart and a resolute promise. Let me begin with the news that is immediately in front of us: we have all been witness to the confusion, surprise and opposition to the Executive Order that President Trump issued on Friday, effectively banning people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, including refugees fleeing wars. I can assure you that our Partner Resources team has been in direct contact with the partners who are impacted by this immigration ban, and we are doing everything possible to support and help them to navigate through this confusing period.
We are living in an unprecedented time, one in which we are witness to the conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question [...] I am hearing the alarm you all are sounding that the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack, and want to use a faster, more immediate form of communication to engage with you on matters that concern us all as partners.
Schultz went on to highlight Starbucks' various policies and commitments that are intended to push back against this "attack" on "civility and human rights," including a plan to hire thousands of refugees. "There are more than 65 million citizens of the world recognized as refugees by the United Nations, and we are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business," he wrote.
Schultz also outlined the company's policy that supports DREAMers (those benefiting from the DACA program), and declared that Starbucks was committed to "building bridges, not walls, with Mexico," as well as to providing health insurance to its employees. In other words, Schultz used Trump's "Muslim ban" as a means of underscoring Starbucks' general commitment to the leftist agenda.
As the Daily Wire and others noted a few weeks later, Schultz's grandstanding statement appeared to have done some damage to his company, with popular perception of the company dropping by two-thirds in the YouGov Brand Index ratings, and from 30 percent to 26 percent on the question of buying Starbucks next time, a YouGov spokesman noting that consumer perception "dropped almost immediately" after the refugee statement (chart below via YouGov).
Starbucks' financials appear to have been impacted as well, as the Daily Mail highlights:
At the time, analysts at Credit Suisse said the coffee giant's move had a negative impact on recent sales, and could continue to hurt them in the near future. [...] Starbucks is estimated to be worth $85billion, according to Forbes. Its share price has taken a hit since Schultz's refugee comments, but has risen in the past week to 55.78 USD.
In its send-off for Schultz, The Seattle Times stresses his status as "an advocate for social causes and, perhaps, a political candidate," noting that "his name has been brought up, time and time again, as someone who might run for political office." According to former presidential adviser David Gergen, Schultz "is definitely being pursued" as a Democratic presidential candidate for 2020.
The Seattle Times provides a succinct summary of the recent political initiatives attempted by Starbucks under Schultz's leadership, including the company's failed anti-racism and anti-open carry initiatives:
Starbucks has in recent years pledged to hire 10,000 U.S. military veterans and active duty spouses, and 10,000 young Americans who aren’t employed or in school. It has supported same-sex marriage, and helped raise money to battle homelessness.
Some initiatives, such as the one that encouraged baristas to hold conversations on racism with customers, have fizzled into awkwardness or sparked anger. Schultz’s recent pledge to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years drew some calls for a boycott.
It has also been drawn into the gun debate, with Schultz running ads asking people not to openly carry firearms into its stores in response to open-carry supporters holding “Starbucks Appreciation Days” in which they would show up in stores with their guns.
Though Schultz is stepping down as CEO, he will stay on as the executive chairman. In his announcement of the move, Schultz noted that he plans to "shift his focus to innovation, design and development of Starbucks Reserve® Roasteries around the world, expansion of the Starbucks Reserve® retail store format and the company's social impact initiatives."
Starbucks president and chief operating officer Kevin Johnson will take over as CEO.
This article has been expanded to provide more details.