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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced yesterday that he will step down from the job next year and be succeeded by the company's COO/president, Kevin Johnson.

The handover is scheduled for April 3.

Schultz will remain as executive chairman. The Seattle Times reports that he now will "concentrate his efforts on long-term global strategy and innovation ... Schultz will be in charge of design and development of the company’s high-end Reserve Roasteries around the world, expansion of the Starbucks Reserve retail store format and the company’s social impact initiatives."

The New York Times reports that "the move is likely to ignite renewed speculation about whether Mr. Schultz is paving the way to leave the company entirely to enter politics. His outspoken positions on social issues have led many people, including his closest friends, to say he may seek run for president. He has spent an increasing amount of time traveling around the country speaking publicly about the need to fix the 'dysfunction in Washington'."

This is not the first time that Schultz has stepped down as CEO. In 2000, he handed the reins of the company over to Jim Donald, the former CEO of Pathmark. When the company rand into the headwinds of recession in 2008, though, Schultz fired Donald and returned.

Since then, it must be noted, Starbucks has ridden the waves of economic recovery to a market value of $84 billion, up from $15 billion.
KC's View:
I'm a bit of a cynic about these things, as well as being an enormous fan (and, in recent years, a friend) of Jim Donald. So I have to ask: What's the over/under on when Schultz returns to the CEO job yet again?

His office remains right door to Johnson's, and you can bet that as chairman Schultz will be in the loop on every decision. If the company runs into recessionary issues down the road, I think it is a pretty good bet that Schultz will be tanned, rested and ready.

I'm a big fan of the Roastery concept, but I'm not nearly so sure of the Starbucks Reserve retail store format on which Schultz wants to lavish his time and attention. I keep wondering how it affects the perception of traditional Starbucks stores ...