In a recent LinkedIn post, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shared his perspective on the company’s current struggles and his insights into effective leadership. Schultz emphasized the importance of modeling both humility and confidence to restore trust and improve performance. However, a deeper reading of his statement reveals a profound attachment to the brand that transcends typical business leadership rhetoric.

Schultz, although no longer formally involved with Starbucks, expressed an enduring love for the company and its employees, whom he affectionately refers to as those who wear “the cloth of the company”—the iconic green apron. His use of the word “love” in this context is not just sentimental but strategic, highlighting a core issue at Starbucks: the frequent hiring of external CEOs who may lack the deep emotional connection to the brand that Schultz believes is necessary for its success.

Starbucks’ history under Schultz’s leadership exemplifies the impact of having a leader who not only runs the company but loves it passionately. Schultz first stepped down as CEO in 2000 after successfully globalizing the brand, leaving a company with thousands of locations worldwide. However, he returned in 2008 to lead a significant turnaround after observing the brand’s deterioration.

Post-turnaround, Schultz chose Kevin Johnson, a former Microsoft engineer and tech CEO, as his successor. Despite Johnson’s efforts, including a “listening tour” to connect with employees, Starbucks faced challenges again, leading to another return by Schultz as interim CEO in 2022 before handing over the reins to Laxman Narasimhan, a former McKinsey consultant and multinational company CEO. Despite their impressive resumes, neither Johnson nor Narasimhan could evoke the same level of commitment and risk-taking as Schultz, who made bold moves like closing all Starbucks stores for training and organizing a massive store managers’ conference focused on community service and company values.

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The cycle of leadership changes at Starbucks highlights the difficulty of replacing someone like Schultz, who not only built the company but also poured his heart into it. This suggests that the next leader needs to be someone from within the company, someone who has experienced its highs and lows firsthand and has learned important lessons along the way.

For other business leaders and founders, Starbucks’ situation serves as a valuable lesson in succession planning. The question of whether a successor loves the company as much as its founder may seem sentimental, but it is crucial for maintaining the founder’s legacy and ensuring the company’s ongoing success. Emotional attachment influences decision-making, commitment to company values, and the willingness to take necessary risks. These are qualities that are vital for a company like Starbucks, which is built as much on brand identity and customer loyalty as on the quality of its coffee.

As Starbucks considers its next leadership transition, the company faces the challenge of finding someone who can match Schultz’s dedication and love for the brand. For Schultz, and potentially for other business leaders in similar situations, the key to successful succession might lie not in a candidate’s resume but in their capacity to genuinely love and commit to the company. This approach ensures continuity and also fosters a leadership style that resonates deeply with employees and customers alike.