New Starbucks CEO will work monthly shifts in stores

FILE – Incoming CEO Laxman Narasimhan speaks during Starbucks Investor Day 2022, Sept. 13, 2022, in Seattle. Starbucks officially has a new CEO. The Seattle coffee giant said Monday, March 20, 2023 that Laxman Narasimhan has assumed the role of CEO and joined the company’s board of directors. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear, file)

The new CEO of Starbucks, Laxman Narasimhan, has pledged to work as a barista in stores around the country once a month as part of his leadership of the company.

Narasimhan took the reins of the coffee giant this week as founder Howard Schultz stepped down from his second stint as CEO. Narasimhan credited his “immersive experience” working in stores over the past six months while preparing to take over the company with giving him better understanding of the customer experience.

Front-line work is rare for business executives. A 2018 Harvard Business School study found that CEOs on average spend 6 percent of their time with front-line employees, compared to 72 percent of their time in meetings.

“CEOs face a real risk of operating in a bubble and never seeing the actual world their workers face,” the authors wrote. “Spending time with the rank and file, and with savvy external front line constituencies, is also an indispensable way to gain reliable information on what is really going on in the company and in the industry.”

Schultz’s resignation comes as he is expected to face the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee next week to discuss labor complaints and union busting allegations against the company. 

Starbucks has been in labor turmoil since a Buffalo store became the first to vote to unionize in 2021. Since then, more than 280 locations have followed with union votes nationwide. 

The company has strongly lobbied against union attempts. The National Labor Relations Board has received more than 75 complaints about Starbucks’ treatment of unionizing workers.

“If a significant portion of our employees were to become unionized, our labor costs could increase and our business could be negatively affected by other requirements and expectations that could increase our costs, change our employee culture, decrease our flexibility and disrupt our business,” Starbucks wrote in its 2021 year-end filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Starbucks Workers United, the union attempting to negotiate a contract with the company, is pleased with Narasimhan’s commitment, telling The Washington Post that the decision “is a sign that he’s willing to change Starbucks’ relationship with workers and forge a new path forward with our union.”

Narasimhan said he is also dedicated to supporting employees as top executive, “including long-term hiring and retention, and continuing our investment in partner wages and store operations.”

Tags Howard Schultz howard schultz labor National Labor Relations Board Securities and Exchange Commission Senate HELP committee Starbucks Starbucks Workers United Union Union busting

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