Starbucks's new CEO Laxman Narasimhan announced that he will work as a barista once every month in stores in order to stay close to not just to the customers but also to employees and understand their challenges. The 55-year-old Narasimhan who officially became the Seattle-based coffee giant's chief executive on Monday took the reins from Howard Schultz about two weeks earlier than scheduled.
He was welcomed as incoming chief executive officer of Starbucks with a coffee tasting in the place where it all began – at Seattle’s Pike Place market store. In a letter to the employees on Thursday, the Indian-American business executive said he will always be a "fierce advocate" for the company's partners and its culture.
"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. Barista is a person who serves in a coffee bar.
“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," he was quoted as saying by CNN. "I thought it was very important for me to put myself in the shoes of the partners and really understand what they do and how they do it. There were things I learned through experience in all of this. It taught me a lot,” he said in a statement.
Pune-born 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.
He also discussed how he plans to continue the reinvention plan laid out by Schultz over the summer. “As the new ceo of Starbucks, I am confident that I know our business and our people well, but I will continue to learn and I'm excited to continue earning my green apron every day,” Narasimhan said. Starbucks has made over USD 1 billion in investments aimed at updating training, improving equipment and raising wages and adding other benefits for non-union employees, among other things, to help modernise the brand and make it more relevant, the report said.
“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. “Critically, we will reinvigorate our culture around what it means to be a partner at Starbucks,” he added. Schultz said as he got to know Narasimhan, he was stuck by his experience and leadership qualities.
“I know we're going to be in great hands and I can promise you he is going to make us a better company,” he said. Narasimhan was most recently CEO of Reckitt, a UK-based consumer health, hygiene and nutrition company that makes Lysol cleaner and Enfamil formula, among other products.
Prior to that, he held various leadership roles at PepsiCo, including as global chief commercial officer. He also served as CEO of the company’s Latin America, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa operations.
He takes over a company with significant strengths. Starbucks reported record demand in the April-June period as strong US sales made up for continuing closures in China, the company's second-largest market. But Starbucks also has challenges. It tries to fight off a wave of unionisation. That effort has been ugly at times, casting a shadow over Starbucks’ reputation as a progressive company.
Unionised 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, the report said. “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 organiser, said in a statement this week.
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