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What Every Exec Should Learn From Starbucks…

Can you name the CEO of Starbucks?

Nope, it’s not Howard Schultz anymore. Guess again …

Kevin Johnson. Wait, what?

You might not recognize that name. Heck, I didn’t even know this leadership transition happened. Yup, Johnson’s first day as CEO was Monday, April 3rd.

Now that I’ve had a look, it’s fascinating to me how purposeful, unsentimental and drama-free this shift in power has been. That wasn’t guaranteed. It had all the ingredients for a train wreck:

(a) A charismatic founder/leader with a huge personal brand who led the company to success not once, but twice;

(b) A market saturated with competition; and

(c) A successor known more for his operations prowess and outside industry expertise than his visionary tendencies.

By all accounts, though, it’s been smooth sailing. In fact, people seem to have more to say about Starbucks’ limited edition “Unicorn Frappuccino” than its executive leadership. Yes, that’s a thing. Google it.

Here’s a good take on Johnson’s succession from Business Insider.

I wish I could say the same for all organizations and executives. I can’t. I’ve seen executive transitions (not just for CEO’s but also other CXO roles) carried out well but also clumsily, with poor planning, execution and scant forethought to potential downstream implications and consequences.

So, what to learn from Starbucks if you’ll be vacating your role and are looking for a successor?

1. Begin succession work early.

In 2009, Schultz invited Johnson – then, CEO of Juniper Networks, a Networking equipment company – to sit on Starbucks Board. In 2015 Johnson became Starbucks Chief Operating Officer.

2. Involve the successor in mapping the future.

Schultz and Johnson together wrote Starbucks five-year strategic plan.

3. Promote a relevant leader and not a clone.

The strategic plan calls for growing from 26,000 to 37,000 retail stores, opening 30 new upscale offshoot Roastery shops and mastering mobile ordering. This will require a heavier emphasis on Ops and technology than Schultz’ legendary merchandizing skills.

What if you’re the professional being considered for the promotion? Look to the same criteria. Have they begun the succession planning process with enough time and attention to make it work? Are they interested in the right balance of their and your input into the incumbent role and strategy? And, finally, are you the right fit for where the organization is headed?

Action Item: as you consider your next career steps and those of your high-performing direct reports, look to the business press for reporting on the cases that go well and badly. Distill the key elements you will employ in your and your organization’s succession planning.

Alright, that’s it for now. As always, I’m delighted when I hear your reactions to the stuff I pass along, so be in touch and share your thinking.

[As you may know, I help senior professionals with their C-Suite promotability. Since people are always asking me for quick hits of what they ought to focus on, I developed The C-Suite Roadblock Audit … a 2-minute confidential survey that returns a quick set of recommendations based on probable behavior-based tendencies. Have a look here if you’re interested.]

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