Starbucks CEO-as-Barista: Leadership Experts Weigh In

Starbucks CEO-as-Barista: Leadership Experts Weigh In

By Joseph Romsey

The new CEO of Starbucks, Laxman Narasimhan, officially took over for outgoing CEO Howard Schultz on March 20. Before assuming the new role, Narasimhan earned a barista certification and immersed himself in the company’s operations. In a March 23 letter to employees, Narasimhan announced plans to work as a barista one half day per month to stay connected with the company’s culture, customers and employees.

Narasimhan takes the reins at a time when the Seattle-based coffee chain faces mounting unionization efforts, with nearly 300 U.S. stores having voted for unionization. In February, Schultz told CNN he didn’t believe a union “has a place in Starbucks,” citing the company’s recent efforts to improve salaries, benefits, training and working conditions for its “partners” (how Starbucks refers to employees). 

Starbucks employee and union organizer Michelle Eisen expressed optimism 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.” 

An ‘Undercover Boss’ Move

Narasimhan’s decision to work as a barista once a month is reminiscent of the CBS TV reality show “Undercover Boss,” where executives work undercover as a lower-level employee to examine the day-to-day operations of their company. The Starbucks CEO will not, however, be hiding his identity, which could pose its own challenges. 

We asked leadership experts what they thought of Narasimhan’s move to work the front lines.

“Making time for dialogue with front-line employees is crucial for any CEO’s ability to be effective,” said Tracy Lawrence, founder and CEO of The Lawrence Advisory, a leadership consulting firm. “This is especially true at companies like Starbucks that rely on employees to be the face of the brand.” 

Whitney Johnson, author of Smart Growth: How to Grow Your People to Grow Your Company (Harvard Business Review Press, 2022), said “There’s a lot Narasimhan can learn about the company’s employee and customer experiences by working the front lines. Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly did something similar back in 2012 when he spent his first week as CEO working at two stores in Minnesota. He went on to turn the struggling retailer around and became a highly-regarded CEO.”  

Narasimhan’s move to work the front lines, by itself, won’t resolve lingering tensions between Starbucks and its employees. “In the end, it all comes down to building trust,” said Amy Jenkins, director of client strategy for theEMPLOYEEapp.

Read the rest @


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *