(CNBC) — Howard Schultz is stepping down from his role as executive chairman of Starbucks, effective June 26, according to a memo sent to employees Monday.
Schultz is seen as the architect of the modern Starbucks, having overseen its expansion from a single coffee shop that opened in Seattle’s Pike Place Market in 1971. He joined Starbucks in 1982 as director of operations and marketing. Over time he grew it into the iconic brand it is today, with more than 28,000 locations globally.
Schultz’s latest leadership transition sparked speculation about his potential political plans: He has been a supporter of former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during her bid for president. Some have already questioned whether he would pursue his own presidential run.
"I’ll be thinking about a range of options for myself, from philanthropy to public service, but I’m a long way from knowing what the future holds," Schultz said in the memo.
Myron E. Ullman, former chairman and CEO of J.C. Penney, was named chair, while Mellody Hobson, president and director of Chicago-based investment management firm Ariel Investments, will be named vice chair.
Schultz, who now will become its chairman emeritus, served as the company’s chief executive from 1987 to 2000, stepping down to focus on the company’s global strategy. He remained on as chairman of the board. At that time, there were only 350 cafes located outside of the U.S.
From 2000 to 2008, Starbucks rapidly expanded from 3,500 to about 16,000 locations, but for Schultz, the quality of the brand and its coffee had deteriorated. He returned to the head position in 2008 to revitalize it.
Again in 2017, Schultz stepped down, handing the keys over to current CEO Kevin Johnson. Once more, he picked up the mantle of executive chairman of the brand. This time he focused his efforts on Starbucks’ Roastery and Reserve Bar expansion.
"I set out to build a company that my father, a blue-collar worker and World War II veteran, never had a chance to work for. Together we’ve done that, and so much more, by balancing profitability and social conscience, compassion and rigor, and love and responsibility," he said.
Schultz currently owns 37.8 million shares of Starbucks, worth about $2.17 billion