Howard Schultz stood before hundreds of Starbucks partners Monday afternoon as the past and the future came together. He hadn't slept much the last few nights, he said. He was too anxious about this moment.
Schultz and Starbucks ceo Kevin Johnson entered the second-floor mezzanine of the Starbucks Support Center to a standing ovation. Moments later, Johnson introduced him saying, "Rarely in a lifetime does one have the opportunity to work with a founder, and entrepreneur, a leader that created such an iconic company. Each one of us and all the partners before us have had that opportunity.”
Schultz took the floor to a second standing ovation, this one thundering on until he motioned for people to take their seats. "You're going to make me cry before I start," he said.
Over the past 40 years Schultz has been at the helm of Starbucks, he has often gathered partners together for forums or town halls at critical moments. But this day was different. This was the day he announced that he was leaving the company, stepping down from his role as executive chairman.
Schultz was emotional, as were many of the about 900 partners sitting and standing in the two-floor, 360-degree space around where he spoke. Thousands more watched from conference rooms and computers company-wide.
"I wish my parents could have witnessed what we have done together," said Schultz, who grew up in the Canarsie projects in Brooklyn. As a boy, his family had nearly become destitute when his father broke his ankle on the job and didn't have medical insurance to pay for care.
"I set out to build a company that my father, a blue-collar worker and World War II veteran, never had a chance to work for," he wrote to partners in a letter he sent out earlier Monday, announcing his departure later this month.
During Schultz's time at Starbucks, the company grew from 11 stores to 28,000 in 77 countries and stock prices increased 19,000 percent since the initial 1992 public offering. But what Schultz especially wished is that his parents could have seen the kind of the company he helped create – one that took care of its employees, giving them access to tuition free-education and health care, a company with a commitment to hire military veterans and their spouses, as well as young people who may have not had many chances in life.
As he looked out at those gathered around him, a mix of partners, board members, former colleagues and even the very first Starbucks investor, he became choked up. "We are in the business that elevates humanity," he said. "It’s about what we’ve been able to create: a unique experience around love and humanity."
Read the full story by Linda Dahlstrom and Jennifer Warnick in the Starbucks Newsroom
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