Howard Schultz: Key Starbucks moments in pictures

Howard Schultz with group of partners with arms around each other smiling

As we welcome Howard back as Starbucks chief executive officer today, April 4, we’re highlighting some of his most meaningful moments as a partner. From his first sip at Pike Place Market, to his return to lead the journey forward, we’re celebrating our history and our future with him together.

1981: First cup

Howard Schultz walks into Starbucks first store at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, a retailer of whole-bean coffee, tea and spices. “The minute the door opened, a heady aroma of coffee reached out and drew me in,” he said in his book, “Pour Your Heart into It.” He is invited to try a cup of Sumatra at the counter, “By the third sip, I was hooked. I felt as though I had discovered a whole new continent.” He heads back to home to New York, still feeling the tug of Starbucks.

1982: Schultz joins Starbucks

After a year of coaxing, Schultz convinces founder Jerry Baldwin to hire him. Schultz joins Starbucks as director of retail of operations and marketing.

1983: Inspiration in Italy

Howard visits Italy for the first time for a trade show and is captivated by Milan’s espresso bars. “In each shop I visited I began to see the same people and interactions, and it dawned on me that what these coffee bars had created, aside from the romance and theater of coffee, was a morning ritual and a sense of community,” said Schultz. He flies back to Seattle with a vision to re-create the experience at Starbucks. “What we had to do was unlock the romance and mystery of coffee, firsthand, in coffee bars,” he said.

1984: First Caffè Latte

Sepia-tone hand holding pitcher pouring steamed milk into row of Starbucks cups

Schultz convinces Starbucks founders to test the coffeehouse concept in a new store at 4th & Spring in downtown Seattle and the first Starbucks® Caffè Latte is served. This successful experiment is the genesis for a company that Schultz founds in 1985.

1985: Il Giornale

Howard Schultz leaves Starbucks briefly and founds Il Giornale, offering brewed coffee and espresso beverages made from Starbucks® beans.

1987: Starbucks becomes a coffeehouse

Il Giornale acquires Starbucks assets with the backing of local investors and the company begins its next chapter as a coffeehouse, and opens its first stores in Chicago and Vancouver, Canada. The next year, Starbucks would go on to offer full health benefits to eligible full- and -time employees, including coverage for domestic partnerships.

1990s: H2O

Schultz is soon joined by two new leaders who helped transform Starbucks from small chain of coffee shops to an international brand. Howard Behar (left) started with Starbucks in 1989 as vice president of sales and operations, Orin Smith (middle) came on board the next year as vice president and chief financial officer. The trio worked so closely together they were “H20” (for two Howards and one Orin). Smith would go on to become ceo of the company from 2000-2005.

1990s: Journey to the source of Starbucks coffee

Schultz travels to Guatemala with Starbucks coffee buyer, Dave Olsen, seen here on a patio of drying coffee beans at a farm.

1992: SBUX joins Nasdaq

Howard and his leadership team watch the monitors during Starbucks first day of trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. With the IPO, Starbucks employees became known as “partners,” because they have a share in the company’s success through its stock option program, Bean Stock.

1999: First store in China

Schultz joins company leaders, dignitaries and baristas in Beijing for the opening of the company’s first store in China on Jan. 11, 1999, the company’s 10th market outside the United States. The next year, Schultz will transition to a new role as chairman and chief global strategist, where he would focus on innovation and help open Starbucks stores in 30 new countries over the next nearly eight years.

2008: Transformation

Schultz returns as chief executive officer on Jan. 7, 2008 as Starbucks rapid growth begins to slow and same-store sales decline for the first time in the company’s history. He leads the company’s transformation, refocusing on core values and reigniting coffee passion and innovation.

2013: Taking a stand for equality

Schultz makes a statement on diversity and equality during a spontaneous exchange at the Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders on March 13, 2013. In response to a stockholder who voiced his view that the company had lost customers because of its support for marriage equality, Schultz said, “Not every decision is an economic decision. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people.”

2013: Committing to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses

On Nov. 6, 2013, Schultz announces Starbucks commitment to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018, goal the company would achieve ahead of schedule in 2017. Starbucks now aims to hire 25,000 by 2025. Here, Schultz is shown meeting with soldiers on a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Lakewood, Wash.

2014: Raising the flag for LGBTQ inclusion

Schultz (left) joins partners in celebration of the first raising of the Pride flag at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle on June 23, 2014.

2016: Returning to Italy

More than 30 years after Schultz first walked Italy’s cobblestone streets, Schultz returned to the city to announce Starbucks would be opening a Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan in 2018.

2016: Creating pathways to opportunity

Schultz shares a laugh with young people attending an Opportunity Fair & Forum in Los Angeles on Feb. 11, 2016. The day-long resource and job fair is one of those hosted across the country by the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a coalition led by Starbucks to provide inspirational experiences young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who aren’t working and aren’t in school, including job interviews, college counseling, resume building and workshops. In 2015, Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth, a goal that was surpassed and expanded to a commitment of 100,000 by 2020.

2017: Passing the torch

Schultz presents incoming ceo Kevin Johnson with the key to the company’s original Pike Place Market store on March 22, 2017, while Schultz takes on a new role as executive chairman, focusing on design and development of the Starbucks premium brand and the company’s social impact initiatives.

2017: ‘Your station in life does not define you’

Schultz addresses graduates at Arizona State University’s commencement on May 8, 2017, including more than 260 graduates who earned a bachelor’s degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, a program Starbucks announced three years earlier. “Your station in life does not define you and the promise of America is for all of us,” he said.

Spring 2022: A return as chief executive officer

Preparing for his return as ceo, Schultz and members of the executive leadership team meet at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle to plan for the company’s future.

April 4, 2022: 'I think people are longing for truthful conversation

On his first day as returning chief executive officer, Howard hosts a “family meeting” at the Starbucks Support Center, with partners joining live in the room, and virtually from around the building and around the world.