For the first time since taking the helm of Starbucks, chief executive officer Laxman Narasimhan traveled to India to celebrate a slew of exciting company announcements in the new year. The two-city visit was especially personal, as Narasimhan was raised in Pune and spent several years working in Mumbai (Bombay) before moving abroad.
“My home country is so important not only for me, but for our company.”
In partnership with India-based Tata Starbucks Private Limited, Starbucks currently operates 390 stores in 54 cities across the country and employs nearly 4,300 partners (employees), with plans to open 1,000 stores by 2028 – the equivalent of one store opening every three days. Reflecting on that upward trend, Narasimhan – who goes by Laks for short – delivered a strong message to partners (employees) throughout his time in country:
A Vision for Starbucks in India with Coffee and Partners at the Core
On hand to announce the opening of 1,000 additional stores throughout India over the next four years, Laks reinforced Starbucks ambition to reach new customers in innovative ways, wherever they are. Future store formats will continue to celebrate inclusion and diversity, while also emphasizing third place experiences that foster meaningful human connections over coffee. As part of Starbucks promise to be a bridge to a better future for our partners, the opening of nearly twice as many new stores in country will also mean unprecedented opportunities for them to receive career advancement and development.
The energy and enthusiasm for these initiatives was evident nearly everywhere Laks traveled, including Mumbai where he engaged with dozens of store partners and helped announce the winners of this year’s Starbucks Coffee Championship. A young barista named Madhav took home the trophy for his region. He says he joined the company a few years ago during a troubling time in his life – and grew to love the culture, his customers and his team.
“When I saw [Laks] go behind the bar – that’s when the term ‘partner’ came alive. He was working with us and knew what we were doing,” Madhav shared while proudly donning the black apron of a coffee master. Not only did he work alongside Laks making drinks for others, but he also gave the CEO some tips he has learned over time for steaming better milk. “That was an experience I will always cherish.”
During a partner open forum, Laks discussed the back story and principles of Starbucks updated mission, values and promises. He also shared memories of growing up in India and his journey from a curious child who loved the game of cricket – India’s favorite sport – to his humble beginning decades later at Starbucks, where the veteran executive immersed himself in store culture and trained to be a barista for six months before succeeding former CEO Howard Schultz. For him, the process of earning his green apron in the field and being trained by retail partners of many backgrounds was a grounding and pivotal experience that set him up for the chief executive position he holds today based at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle.
At a time when the world feels so divided and in conflict, Narasimhan believes Starbucks can provide people with places to come together, to connect and to find common ground while also feeling a sense of belonging and joy. In fact, after touching down in India after a long flight and stepping inside a Starbucks away from crowded streets, he noted that it was the partners in the green aprons who grounded him and brought him into the present.
“When someone who feels disconnected comes into the store and a partner asks their name and how they can help, it feels great. It starts with a name,” he told the forum audience. “It’s a little overwhelming to say it's great to feel back at home. So, thank you for having me.”
Fielding questions from partners about the path forward, Laks focused on the importance of reinvigorating company culture and doubled down on his promise to be a partner-centered leader with high ambitions. He referred frequently to the company’s recently unveiled Triple Shot Reinvention strategy, which means more opportunity than ever for growth in India’s trillion-dollar economy through elevating coffee experiences – exemplified by the announcement of a second Reserve store to open in market and the forthcoming global release of the locally grown Starbucks Reserve(R) whole bean coffee, Monsooned Malabar.
“Coffee is the heart of this company, and we must all learn and embrace it,” he said. “The promise of India is enormous, but for us to accomplish [our goals], we need to be sure we're building a business that's got great substance, that's got a great core to it, and is differentiated. At our best for our customers in India, we uplift the everyday.”
Remembering Roots, Working Alongside Partners
Since he began his role as CEO, Laks has committed to working at least one shift as a barista in a Starbucks store every month. It’s a key aspect of his goal to remain close to the field and understand frontline store operations from the highest levels of the company.
India took things to a whole new level.
In Mumbai, store leader Sunil reported that Laks “was checking in with my entire team, with each and every person. He asked us about the store, he joined us for a coffee tasting – and he talked to partners in Hindi. I was not expecting that. It really touched my heart.”
Leaders including Michael Conway, group president for Starbucks International and Channel Development, and Emmy Kan, president of Starbucks Asia Pacific, also joined Laks in-store. Together, they watched firsthand as retail partners worked their magic with customers – displaying pride in their coffee craft through offering tastings and engaging in meaningful conversations.
By the time they reached his hometown of Pune, Laks took the opportunity to go behind the bar of the nearest Starbucks. Wearing his green apron and a localized nametag, he worked alongside partners and interacted with the community that raised him. For some, figuring out this new barista was actually the chief executive of Starbucks inevitably led to requests for photos and autographs.
“He had a happy vibe and a smile all the time,” Preeti, a 10-month partner, said of her temporary shift partner. “It was like talking to an old friend.”
A very curious friend.
As he does with every in-store visit, Laks asked many questions of store partners, from business fundamentals and how long they’d worked for Starbucks to their best barista tips and their long-term career goals. There were many high-fives – and the consistent sound of laughter.
Dinesh, a store manager and nearly ten-year veteran of Starbucks in India, says customers and partners alike were delighted to see Laks hand off drinks to customers and even speak in their local language, Marathi.
“The global CEO of Starbucks is of Indian origin,” he said. “We are very proud, and he’s a very down-to-earth person. It was a great moment for us. A proud moment for us.”
On his way back to the U.S., Laks shared some of his reflections about the experience as well. He loved seeing up close how partners in India are leveraging the mission of Starbucks and its numerous initiatives with Tata Starbucks Private Limited to build better lives for themselves and their families.
“These are critical and important initiatives for our communities and partners and ensure we are keeping our promise of bridging to a better future. We are also proud to play a role in cultivating India’s evolving coffee culture and rich coffee heritage. There are truly limitless opportunities in India. These steps forward are indicators of an exciting future for Starbucks in India. Thank you to all our partners in India and those who made my visit truly special."