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Starbucks late last week announced that Laxman Narasimhan, the CEO of "multinational consumer health, hygiene and nutrition company" Reckitt since 2019, is joining the coffee company as its new CEO.  He will succeed Howard Schultz, who has been serving as interim CEO since the resignation of Kevin Johnson, who retired from the job after five years in the CEO's office.

The announcement said that "Narasimhan brings nearly 30 years of experience leading and advising global consumer-facing brands. Known for his considerable operational expertise, he has a proven track record in developing purpose-led brands. Building on companies’ histories, he has succeeded in rallying talent to deliver on future ambitions by driving consumer-centric and digital innovations."  And, Starbucks noted that as Reckitt, "he led the company through a major strategic transformation and a return to sustainable growth."

“Laxman is an inspiring leader. His deep, hands-on experience driving strategic transformations at global consumer-facing businesses makes him the ideal choice to accelerate Starbucks growth and capture the opportunities ahead of us. His understanding of our culture and values, coupled with his expertise as a brand builder, innovation champion, and operational leader will be true differentiators as we position Starbucks for the next 50 years, generating value for all our stakeholders. On behalf of the entire Board, I am thrilled to welcome Laxman as Starbucks next CEO,” said Mellody Hobson, Independent Starbucks Board of Directors chair.

The New York Times writes that "Narasimhan was tasked with cleaning up Reckitt, which had struggled with slowing sales and an ill-fated $16.6 billion takeover of the infant products maker Mead Johnson. He quickly moved to cut costs while investing in Reckitt’s supply chains and product research. He also sold underperforming divisions, and scrapped a potential breakup of the company."

The Times also notes that "Narasimhan will gradually take the reins at Starbucks: He’ll join the coffee chain in October as 'incoming C.E.O.,' but he won’t formally lead until April. During that transition, Schultz said, Narasimhan will get 'immersed' in Starbucks’s culture by traveling to stores worldwide and even working behind the counter at some locations."

KC's View:

First, an admission - I got this wrong.  I've been of the opinion that Schultz would give up the CEO job at Starbucks when they pried it from his cold, dead fingers.  (Okay, that's a little bit of hyperbole, but you get the picture.)  But, I predicted - when nobody else did - that he would at some point dislodge Kevin Thomas from the job, which he did, and so I guess I'm batting .500.

I don't want to jinx poor Laxman Narasimhan, so I won't speculate as to how long he'll last at Starbucks.  But I don't envy him having to report to a board on which Howard Schultz is a presence.  That's like following Mickey Mantle as the New York Yankees' center fielder.  (Schultz, no doubt, will appreciate that comparison.)

I must admit that I am conflicted about this appointment.  Narasimhan, best I can tell, has no retail experience, and I've always felt that retail leadership requires someone who understands the unique alchemy of art and science that goes into creating an effective retail environment.

But … it also appears that Narasimhan overlapped with Vivek Sankaran, now CEO of Albertsons, and Indra Nooyi, the retired CEO of PepsiCo, when he was at PepsiCo, and I have a lot of regard for their leadership styles and management pedigrees.  So maybe it will work.

But man … Starbucks has got a lot of issues to resolve - from reengineering its stores to dealing  with some challenging labor issues.  It may not be enough for Narasimhan to be a strong leader.  he may need to be a miracle worker.