Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Succession Troubles at Starbucks

Source: zeebiz

Last week, Starbucks announced disappointing financial results.  The stock dropped 12% in after-hours trading on Tuesday, April 30th when Starbucks announced a 2% decline in sales and a 15% decrease in earnings relative the second quarter last year. 

Former CEO Howard Schultz decided to comment on the subpar performance through a LinkedIn post.  He wrote:

At any company that misses badly, there must be contrition and renewed focus and discipline on the core. Own the shortcoming without the slightest semblance of an excuse...

Over the past five days, I have been asked by people inside and outside the company for my thoughts on what should be done. I have emphasized that the company’s fix needs to begin at home: U.S. operations are the primary reason for the company’s fall from grace. The stores require a maniacal focus on the customer experience, through the eyes of a merchant. The answer does not lie in data, but in the stores.

Senior leaders—including board members—need to spend more time with those who wear the green apron. One of their first actions should be to reinvent the mobile ordering and payment platform—which Starbucks pioneered—to once again make it the uplifting experience it was designed to be. The go-to-market strategy needs to be overhauled and elevated with coffee-forward innovation that inspires partners, and creates differentiation in the marketplace, reinforcing the company’s premium position. Through it all, focus on being experiential, not transactional.

Now, Schultz may be exactly right in his diagnosis and recommendations for the company.  However, one has to wonder about whether he should have publicly articulated these points.  After all, Schultz has twice returned to the CEO role after stepping down.  Each time, he has resumed leadership of the company after a successor stumbled.  In this case, Laxman Narasimhan has only been CEO for a short time (he formally assumed the role in March 2023).  Shouldn't Schultz give him a chance to put his stamp on the company before criticizing the firm so publicly?  What benefit is there for the company, its employees, and its shareholders if he publishes this commentary on LinkedIn, rather than simply talking privately with fellow shareholders and/or directors and executives of the company?   Knowing when and how to leave is a critical part of any succession.  Starbucks has struggled mightily in this regard.  The Board needs to navigate this situation carefully, lest they find themselves searching for a new CEO again far too soon. 

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