(JTA) — Howard Schultz, who as CEO of Starbucks built the coffee company into a global empire, is stepping down as its chief executive, the company said.
Schultz, 63, will become the company’s executive chairman, and its current president and chief operating officer, Kevin Johnson, will become CEO, NBC News reported Thursday based on a statement from the company.
The changes will take place April 3, Starbucks said.
Starbucks shares dipped about 4 percent in after hours trading following the news of the planned leadership transition, according to NBC.
“This is a big day for me,” Schultz said in an interview with The New York Times. “I love the company as much as I love my family.”
But he said it was the right time to hand the keys to Johnson, whom he described as being “better equipped” to “run the company than I am,” ticking off a list of Johnson’s operational talents and saying that he wanted to “relinquish the role and responsibility to the right person.”
Schultz, who is Jewish, joined Starbucks in 1982 as director of operations and marketing when the company only had four stores, according to Starbucks. Under his stewardship, the coffee roasting outfit has grown to 25,000 stores in 75 countries.
As executive chairman, Schultz will focus on the company’s involvement in social causes and on growing Starbucks Reserve, its new premium brand and chain of high-end stores, The New York Times reported.
Under Schultz, Starbucks has become a vocal part of the national conversation on issues such as gun violence, gay rights, race relations, veterans rights and student debt.
Schultz grew up poor in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, New York. He had a coffee epiphany while paying a client call on a coffee bean store in Seattle in 1981, and then went to work at the company the next year, according to The New York Times. In 1983, he visited Italy and was impressed not only by the ubiquity of coffee bars, but also their central role as community gathering spots — a role he refers to as “the third place” in society.