Kevin Johnson Returns to New Mexico State to Receive Honorary Doctorate

Starbucks chief executive officer Kevin Johnson is fond of saying he fell in love twice at New Mexico State University – once with his wife, June, and once with computer science.

Johnson, who graduated from NMSU in 1981 with a bachelor of arts degree in business administration, was back on campus last weekend to participate in university graduation ceremonies and receive an honorary doctor of letters degree.

Speaking to 80 graduates at the NMSU Doctoral Hooding Ceremony May 12 at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, N.M., Johnson recalled being a focused scholar who mostly earned A’s, an occasional B, and a single C – “the same semester that I met June. That might have had something to do with it, although she claims that it might have been because I didn’t buy the book for the class.”

A native of Los Alamos, N.M., Johnson said his time at the university fostered his interest in technology and an appreciation for the value of mentorship that has only grown in the years since he left school. Prior to succeeding Howard Schultz as Starbucks chief executive April 3, Johnson was an executive in the tech industry. He spent 16 years with Microsoft and five years as chief executive officer of Juniper Networks.

A clarifying moment

Johnson was diagnosed with skin cancer six years ago, which prompted him to step away from his career and reassess his priorities, he told the audience.

“I decided at that moment – that clarifying moment – that for the rest of my life I would only spend my time on things that were joyful with people I loved,” he said.

Johnson served on the National Security Telecommunication Advisory Committee under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and joined the Starbucks Board of Directors in 2009. In 2015, he became president and chief operating officer for Starbucks.

“Starbucks has been a gift in my life journey because it is about serving others,” Johnson said. “I serve the 330,000 Starbucks partners around the world who proudly wear the green apron – and this brings me joy. And they in turn have the privilege to serve over 90 million customers a week. I find that if you serve others, they too will pay it forward.”

A founding board member of NPower, a nonprofit that launches digital careers for military veterans and youth from underserved communities, Johnson is also active in Catalyst, which expands opportunities for women in business, and Eastside Services, a youth and family counseling organization serving the Seattle area.

Proclaiming himself “a lifelong Aggie,” Johnson advised graduates to “be authentic to yourself, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, find your passion and always remember to serve others.

“It is the path to joy and love in a world that is in need of empathy and compassion for the human experience.”

While in New Mexico, Johnson also hosted a Starbucks partner open forum in Albuquerque attended by more than 120 partners and visited local Starbucks stores in Las Cruces, taking over the drive thru at a few of the stops. On campus, he participated in a roundtable discussion with students from the Arrowhead Center and mentorship programs that Johnson and his wife have funded, including Jessica Lyn Robles, a Starbucks store manager and seven-year partner (employee) who received her master’s degree in business administration over the weekend.

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