Meet Starbucks' new CEO Laxman Narasimhan who plans to 'reinvigorate' company's culture
Laxman Narasimhan is officially CEO of Starbucks (SBUX).
He is the first external CEO of the Seattle-based coffee giant. Previous CEOs, including three-time CEO Howard Shultz, James Donald, Orin C. Smith, and Kevin Johnson, all held positions at the company prior to taking the helm. Narasimhan joined Starbucks October 1 as interim CEO with plans to officially begin his role and join the Starbucks' Board of Directors on April 1, 2023, making his CEO transition two weeks earlier than initially planned.
Four days into his role as the official CEO and ahead of the company's annual meeting of the shareholders, Narasimhan sent a letter to its employees (or what Starbucks calls partners).
In the letter, he emphasized his focus on "long-term sustainable growth," which includes finding ways to elevate the brand, build on Starbuck's "leadership position," strengthen customers' digital experience, and grow the brand's global presence.
He also noted that he plans to focus on employees. "Critically, we will reinvigorate our culture around what it means to be a partner at Starbucks," he said.
This comes after more than 100 stores went on strike Wednesday to "demand basic rights" and "welcome" Laxman whom they say has an "opportunity" to stop "union busting," per the labor union Starbucks Workers United.
Narasimhan also said in the letter that he plans to "continue working in stores for a half day each month, to keep us close to the culture and our customers."
So, who is Laxman Narasimhan?
Known as "Laks" to baristas, the 55-year-old business executive was born in 1967 in the town Pune, India, where went on to earn a degree in engineering. He then earned a Master's degree in international studies and business administration at the University of Pennsylvania. He reportedly speaks six languages; German, English, Spanish, and three Indian dialects.
Narasimhan began his career at the consulting firm McKinsey, becoming a senior partner. There, he spent 19 years focused on consumer, retail, and technology practices across the U.S. and Asia.
In 2012, he left the firm to join PepsiCo (PEP). There, he held various roles, including global chief commercial officer, where he oversaw the beverage giant's long-term strategy and digital capabilities. His other titles at PepsiCo included CEO of the company’s operations in Latin America, Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Then in September of 2019, he got tapped to be CEO of Reckitt Benckiser (RKT.L). There, he was credited with boosting sales of health and hygiene products during the pandemic as well as leading the company through the baby formula shortage in the U.S. As mentioned in the video above, following his first day as Reckitt CEO to the day after he announced his departure in September 2022, the company's stock price was up 8%. Upon his announced departure, shares fell more than 4%.
Narasimhan is also a Verizon (VZ) board member, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a trustee of the Brookings Institution, and served on the Board of Reckitt during his tenure as CEO.
Narasimhan has a lot on his plate as the new CEO of Starbucks. As noted earlier, his tenure also kicks off as the company continues to tussle with unionization efforts by employees who don't believe they are being given a seat at the table.
Though no longer CEO, former CEO Howard Schultz is scheduled to testify before the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee on Wednesday, March 29, in response to accusations that Starbucks has not allowed its workers to "organize unions," nor engaged "in collective bargaining to improve their wages and working conditions," according to a statement from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Other items on Narasimhan's agenda include implementing the company's accelerated growth strategy, what it calls the Reinvention Plan, expansion into China and curbside delivery there, and the rollout of the olive-oil infused coffee line Oleato, among others.
Brooke DiPalma is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at email@example.com.
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