Howard Schultz, who oversaw Starbucks Corp.'s growth into a worldwide coffee behemoth, will step down as executive chairman late this month amid persistent speculation that he is considering running for president in 2020.
Starbucks said that Mike Ullman, former chairman and chief executive of J.C. Penney Co., will become chairman and that Mellody Hobson, president of the Chicago management firm Ariel Investments LLC, will become vice chairwoman.
Schultz, 64, who stepped away from his role as chief executive last year, will assume the title of chairman emeritus on June 26, the company said in a statement.
Schultz joined Starbucks as head of operations and marketing in 1982 when it was a single coffee shop in Seattle. He became chief executive in 1987 and oversaw the company's growth from 11 stores to more than 28,000 in 77 countries by early 2018.
Starbucks lauded Schultz for having "reimagined the Italian coffeehouse tradition in America and redefined the role and responsibility of a publicly-held company," saying he had demonstrated that "a business can simultaneously deliver best-in-class financial performance and share success with its people and the communities it serves."
The company has won many awards for its social initiatives, which include its having become one of the first U.S. companies to offer comprehensive health benefits to both part-time as well as full-time employees — including coverage for domestic partners — and having started stock ownership and free college tuition programs for its workers.
The company forfeited a day's revenue last week by shutting all of its 8,000 U.S. stores to train its workers in "racial-bias education" after the arrests of two black men in a Philadelphia store in April.
At the same time, Starbucks has been widely criticized for business practices that skeptics say drive out small, locally owned coffee shops and for allegedly having failed to pay its full share of taxes in Great Britain.
In a memo to employees, Schultz said Monday that "no person or company is ever perfect," but he wrote that he was proud that the company had balanced "profitability and social conscience, compassion and rigor, and love and responsibility."
"Amid the chaos, try to listen with empathy, respond with kindness, and do your best to perform through the lens of humanity," he wrote. "Do not be a bystander."
For more than a year, speculation has swirled that Schultz, a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, is gearing up to run for president in 2020.
He told CNN in February that he wouldn't be a candidate, but when asked about the prospect again in an interview Monday with The New York Times, he replied: "I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service. But I'm a long way from making any decisions about the future."
In October 2016, a month before Trump was elected, WikiLeaks posted hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign revealing that Schultz had been under consideration to be Clinton's running mate, a role that eventually went to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Schultz said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" in October 2014 that many of America's problems stemmed from years of institutional failures in Washington.
"As business people and business leaders, we need to take the lead and do what we can to move the country forward," he said then, adding: "There has to be a balance between profitability and doing everything we can to get the country moving again. And that goes back to Washington.
"Washington has let the country down."