The Leadership of Howard Schultz

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The Leadership of Howard Schultz

The aim of this paper is to explore the leadership of Howard Schultz, who is the chairman emeritus of Starbucks and its former chief executive officer (CEO), by examining his leadership style, success, and notable takeaways. During his leadership in the years 1986 to 2000 and later in 2008 to 2017, saw the coffee-house company undergo extensive transformation, which is reflected in its rapid rise through the industry ranks to become the leading and transformative brand with worldwide operations. Schultz joined the organization ab initio as an executive in the early 1980’s before rising to become the CEO in 1987, a position that made it possible for him to transform the corporation into an internationally recognized brand (Starbucks, 2014). In 2000 after stepping down and seeing the organization go through an economic downturn, he returned to the helm as CEO in 2008. According to Bui, & McCarthy, (2015) in his capacity as CEO for a period of 9 years till 2017, Schultz was able to take the brand through an international expansionist initiative while encouraging expansion into emerging markets and reducing its outlets in the United States.

Leadership Style

Howard Schultz has demonstrated the capacity to leverage several leadership approaches throughout his career at Starbucks as the CEO. Since his first stint at the helm of the corporation, he has proven to be a transformative leader who can connect with his subordinates and motivate them such that they develop a buy-in into his vision and support it (Bui, & McCarthy, 2015). For instance, during his first stint as the CEO, Schultz was able to rally the employees to support his vision of expanding the Starbucks brand beyond its domestic market in the United States. Secondly, Schultz during his second term at the helm of Starbucks went ahead to transform the company into a social responsibility leader that had elaborate corporate social responsibility programs, supporting all its stakeholders (Bui, & McCarthy, 2015).

The second approach that Howard Schultz had adopted during his stint as Starbucks CEO is the contingency approach which he espouses through his individualized consideration and selective intellectual transformation (Starbucks, 2014). For instance, Schultz was able to challenge the notion that corporations operating in the beverage industry cannot be sustainable and ethical in their operations, by developing initiatives such as the veteran integration and farmer outreach programs, which made sure Starbucks management took into consideration the welfare of its crucial stakeholders. Lastly, Schultz espoused democratic and authentic leadership traits, which made it possible for him to engage his subordinates from time to time, especially when making crucial decisions (Starbucks, 2014). For instance, when launching a new program that had an impact on the operations of the organization and its employees, he sought the management’s insight as well as gave feedback on the impact the initiative would have. Also, through the employee reward and recognition program, he gave direct recognition to all outstanding workers as a motivation tool.

Leadership Success

One leadership skill that makes Schultz stand out in the coffee beverage industry is his capacity to motivate others, prompting them to accept and support his vision. For instance, from the start of his career as the CEO of Starbucks, he had a clear vision of what the organization could achieve and how he could transform it (Starbucks, 2014). Schultz's vision for Starbucks as a leading ethical brand saw him continuously tailor programs and initiatives that would cumulatively make the brand a force to reckon with in the industry. The inspirational motivation adopted by Schultz has made it possible for him to bring onboard his subordinates and have them support the senior management in the projects they launch, despite the fact that some of them would take time to materialize (Starbucks, 2014). Motivation is a performance and productivity tool that works in any industry, and the integration of the skill by any leader in another industry would prove fruitful since it helps unite the organization and give all stakeholders a sense of purpose and direction on what to pursue.


The ability of Howard Schultz to transform Starbucks from a domestic brand to an international brand and later into an organization that is keen on observing sustainable practices makes him an outstanding leader worth emulating. Two lessons that one can take from Howard Schultz on his leadership include the need to focus on people, and secondly, the need to continuously inspire those around someone and challenge them to be better. Schultz espouses the importance of focusing on people through his strong commitment to his subordinates and continuously seeking their support and insight (Bui, & McCarthy, 2015). The focus has seen the company transform into a people-centric enterprise that has a strong teamwork culture.

The adoption of the same in my organization would make sure that the people within the organization feel valued and develop a sense of belonging, therefore continuously working to improve their performance (Bui, & McCarthy, 2015). Inspiration and continuously challenging oneself to become better have seen Schultz undertake to question the policies and actions of his management team and subordinates, to determine whether they have lost sight of the brand's vision. The lesson is crucial in that it can help build perseverance in a team, making sure that it is meeting set expectations.


Schultz has in his two stints at the helm of Starbucks Corporation focused on strengthening the organization culture and making sure that the employees feel valued. His core philosophy of employee empowerment has paid off since it has seen the organization reduce its turnover rate, while motivating the employees to go out of their way to fulfill their client expectations (Bui, & McCarthy, 2015). Schultz as a leader, he has always been passionate, employee-friendly, and committed towards set mission.


Bui, H., & McCarthy, G. (2015, September). Leadership Discourse Analysis: The Case of Starbucks CEO. In British Academy of Management.

Starbucks. (2014), “Howard Schultz”,, accessed on 17/03/2014

October 24, 2023


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Company Leadership

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