- Stephen Brashear/Getty
- Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz slammed the GOP tax plan and modern American “dysfunction.” While Schultz has denied rumors of a presidential run, those who know him say that he’s been interested in politics for years. Current and former Starbucks employees are split on if Schultz’s values could translate into a political career.
Starbucks’ chairman and long-time CEO just gave yet another interview where it sounds like he’s preparing for a career in politics.
“So many people in America are living paycheck to paycheck. Corporate America does not need a corporate tax cut from 35 to 20%,” Schultz told Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Time’s DealBook conference. “If you’re going to do that, it has to be more balanced, it has to be more common sense.”
While Schultz did not specifically address Trump beyond the GOP tax plan, the chairman also said he believed that the position of president should be one of “civility, of respect.”
“Young people in America… have been imprinted with an America that is not the same America I grew up with,” Schultz said. “We are being imprinted with a level of dysfunction, polarization, vitriolic behavior that I think is not in keeping with the spirit of the country and the promise of the country.”
This is just the latest in a long string of interviews, speeches, and essays that Schultz has given and written with undeniably political undertones. The executive has been dogged by rumors that he is considering a presidential run – and his comments over the last year have only added fuel to the fire.
On Thursday, Schultz said he isn’t thinking about running for president.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Schultz said. “But I’m deeply concerned about the country and the direction of the country. I’m deeply concerned about our standing in the world. And I’m deeply concerned about the millions of Americans that are not participating in the economy.”
Starbucks has long been political – and that’s due in large part to Schultz
In 2011, Schultz encouraged people not to donate to political campaigns until the government addressed the national debt. In 2015, he spearheaded the “Race Together” campaign to address police brutality and racism. And, last year, Schultz endorsed Clinton for president – his first time publicly endorsing a candidate.
“He always had an interest in politics and always surrounded himself” with politically minded people, a former Starbucks employee who worked closely with Schultz for close to a decade said. “But very quietly.”
Schultz’s connections with politics go deeper than many realize, according to two former employees. In addition to some degree of familiarity with the Bush family and President Jimmy Carter, Schultz apparently has a close relationship with the Clintons, according to one source who spoke with Business Insider.
Starbucks’ current president of US retail was Bill Clinton’s aide from 1997 to 2000, and Schultz emailed Hillary Clinton during the election about how to “emotionally reach and touch the American people.” Clinton reportedly planned to appoint Schultz as her secretary of labor had she been elected president. If Schultz were to run for office, he would most likely turn to the Clintons for advice, according to one former employee.
“If President Clinton said he should run for office, he would do it,” the ex-corporate employee said.
Starbucks employees have mixed thoughts on Schultz’s rumored political aspirations
- Dan R. Krauss/Getty Images
No one can judge Schultz’s abilities as a leader and potential as a politician better than those who have already been under his leadership – Starbucks employees. And, while rumors are widespread, employees had a mixed view of how their boss would do as president.
On the positives are Schultz’s commitment to progressive values.
“Though there have been months where I was barely scraping by in my time at Starbucks, I’ve never felt like the company genuinely doesn’t care about its partners,” one Starbucks employee who has worked in stores for more than four years said. “That, I feel, is maybe one of the most important qualities a politician can have, caring about people even a little, and Uncle Howard (as we affectionately refer to him) seems genuine in that regard.”
“I only know what he’s like as a leader: consistent, leading with heart, involving other people, listening to diverse opinions,” said another former Starbucks employee who also worked closely with Schultz.
However, others say Schultz has struggled to execute these values even at Starbucks – and that trying to bring them to a whole country would be impossible.
“Starbucks corporate employees are not servant leaders from what I see; they are selfish leaders,” one Starbucks worker said. “They don’t lead by examples, they lead with excuses. Their actions speak louder than their words.”
The biggest roadblock may simply be Schultz doesn’t want to “ruin his life” with a presidential campaign
- Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters
The biggest question – especially from employees who have worked most closely with Schultz – isn’t necessarily if Schultz would be capable. Instead, it’s why he’d want to, in the words of one former Starbucks’ corporate worker, “essentially ruin his life.”
A presidential race would mean leaving a cushy gig as Starbucks’ chairman and executing his big ideas for the brand. Instead, he would have to sacrifice his privacy and control so that he could campaign.
Schultz has major aspirations to make a difference in the US. But in 2017, becoming president isn’t the only way to enact change and lead a mass of supporters.