Starbucks’ new CEO Laxman Narasimhan teased his plan for the company in a letter to employees. It includes working in Starbucks stores as a barista once a month.
Narasimhan officially became the coffee chain’s chief executive on Monday, taking the reins from Howard Schultz about two weeks earlier than scheduled. But he’s been with the coffee company for months: Narasimhan joined Starbucks as interim CEO in October, and has since spent time getting to know the company — including earning a barista certification, which requires 40 hours of training in stores.
“The past six months of my immersion into the company have been shaped by so many of you who have taught me about our very special culture at Starbucks,” Narasimhan wrote in the Thursday letter to employees.
“With you, I’ve experienced every aspect of the business to learn what it truly means to wear the green apron. You’ve welcomed me into our stores, trained me in how to be a barista … all to help me deeply understand what we do, how we do it, and the challenges and opportunities facing us,” he wrote.
“To keep us close to the culture and our customers, as well as to our challenges and opportunities, I intend to continue working in stores for a half day each month.”
In the letter, Narasimhan also discussed how he plans to continue the reinvention plan laid out by Schultz over the summer. Starbucks has made over $1 billion in investments aimed at updating trainings, improving equipment and raising wages and adding other benefits for non-union employees, among other things, to help modernize the brand and make it more relevant.
“With our reinvention plan introduced last year, we will continue our focus on improving the store, customer, and of course, the partner experience,” Narasimhan wrote, using the word “partner” to refer to an employee, as Starbucks does. That includes more digital offerings for customers, moving more quickly while being less wasteful, expanding globally and “further [elevating] the brand through coffee,” he added. Recently, the company introduced a new line of olive oil coffee.
“Critically, we will reinvigorate our culture around what it means to be a partner at Starbucks,” Narasimhan continued. “I will always be a fierce advocate for our partners and our culture,” he added.
Narasimhan, who is hosting Starbucks’ annual shareholder meeting on Thursday, is taking over the company during a tense period, as it tries to fight off a wave of unionization. That effort has been ugly at times, casting a shadow over Starbucks’ reputation as a progressive company.
Starbucks displayed “egregious and widespread misconduct” in its dealings with employees involved in efforts to unionize Buffalo, New York, stores, including the first location to unionize, National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge Michael Rosas said recently. Starbucks repeatedly sent high-level executives into Buffalo-area stores in a “relentless” effort, the judge wrote, which “likely left a lasting impact as to the importance of voting against representation.”
Starbucks previously said about Rosas’ order that it is “considering all options to obtain further legal review,” adding that “we believe the decision and the remedies ordered are inappropriate given the record in this matter.”
Despite Starbucks’ actions, nearly 300 stores have voted to unionize and have been certified by the NLRB, so far. There are about 9,300 company-operated Starbucks stores in the US.
Unionized workers are hoping that Narasimhan will be more open to the union than Schultz, who led the company’s efforts against the union since becoming interim CEO last year. Schultz, who remains on Starbucks’ board, is scheduled to testify about Starbucks’ labor practices during a Senate hearing next week.
“We are hopeful that Laxman Narasimhan will chart a new path with the union and work with us to make Starbucks the company we know it can be,” Michelle Eisen, a Starbucks worker and union organizer, said in a statement this week.