Howard Schultz is a transformative leader who built Starbucks over four decades into one of the world’s most recognized and respected businesses, a company committed to strengthening communities through human connection and innovation.
Howard’s journey with Starbucks began in 1981, when he first walked the doors of the whole-bean shop in Seattle’s Pike Place. There, he tasted his first sip of Sumatra and was invited into conversation with connoisseurs who took great care in not only finding and roasting the finest quality coffee, but also sharing their passion with others. In 1982, when Starbucks had only four stores, Howard moved to Seattle from his native New York and joined the company as director of operations and marketing.
A year later, in 1983, Howard traveled to Italy and became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience. He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition to America. He wanted to create a place for human connection, conversation and one that fostered a sense of community – a third place between work and home. He left Starbucks for a short period of time to start his own Il Giornale coffeehouses and returned in August 1987 as chief executive officer to purchase Starbucks with the help of local investors.
From the beginning, Howard set out to build a different kind of company –one that delivers business excellence through a culture of compassion. In these early days, Howard created two landmark programs rooted in the fundamental belief that a business can only exceed expectations by sharing success with its people and the communities it serves. First, Starbucks offered comprehensive health coverage for eligible full- and part-time workers, among the first in the retail industry. Second, Starbucks offered partners (employees) equity in the company in the form of stock, called Bean Stock.
After growing the company to more than 3,000 stores and opening its first stores in Japan, China and Europe, Howard stepped down from the ceo role in 2000 to focus on international expansion as global chief strategist and chairman. He returned in January 2008 as ceo to lead the transformation of the company, bringing the company to sustainable, profitable growth with a renewed focus on Starbucks coffee heritage, innovation and the customer experience. Over the decade, Starbucks grew from 15,000 stores to nearly 30,000, including its groundbreaking Starbucks Reserve® Roastery locations, Community Stores, Military Family stores and a global agronomy center at Hacienda Alsacia. He opened up new educational opportunities through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a first-of-its kind program to give partners a tuition-free college education online and committed to hiring tens of thousands of military veterans and spouses, opportunity youth and refugees.
Howard retired from the company in 2018 but rejoined Starbucks as interim chief executive officer and a member of the company’s Board of Directors on April 4, 2022. In 2023, Howard took on the role of chairman emeritus and stepped down from the Board of Directors.
At the heart of the Starbucks Experience today, just as it has been from the beginning, is Starbucks mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
Howard has been recognized for his passion, his leadership, and his efforts to strengthen communities. Howard was named Fortune’s 2011 Businessperson of the year for delivering record financial returns for the company while leading an effort to spur job creation in the U.S. He has also been honored with the Distinguished Business Leadership Award from the Atlantic Council, Distinguished Leadership Award from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Horatio Alger Award for those who have overcome adversity to achieve success; the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Business Ethics given by Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business; the Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics from Columbia Business School; and the first-ever John Wooden Global Leadership Award from UCLA Anderson School of Management. He has also been included in Time magazine’s “Time 200,” a list of the most influential people in the world. He is also the best-selling author of “From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America” (2019), “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice” (2014), “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul” (2011), and “Pour Your Heart Into It” (1997).
Howard and his wife, Sheri, are co-founders of the Schultz Family Foundation and emes project LLC, two organizations dedicated to creating greater opportunity, accessible to all. In partnership with nonprofits, businesses and governments, the Foundation and the emes project are focused on developing and investing in entrepreneurial, cross-sector solutions designed to build more equitable systems; foster our common bonds; strengthen our democracy; and create life-changing opportunity for people and communities who have historically been at the margins of our country’s promise, particularly young adults and post-9/11 veterans.
Howard earned a bachelor’s degree from Northern Michigan University. He spent three years in sales and marketing with Xerox Corporation. Before joining Starbucks, he was Vice President and General Manager of Hammarplast U.S.A., a Swedish housewares company.