Longtime Starbucks leader Howard Schultz steps down from the coffee chain's board

NEW YORK (AP) — Longtime Starbucks leader Howard Schultz is stepping down from the company's board of directors, the coffee chain announced.

Schultz is credited for transforming the Seattle-based business into the coffee giant it's known as today. His departure from the board is “part of a planned transition,” the company said Wednesday.

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Schultz said his “gratitude to (Starbucks employees) and the millions of stakeholders and customers that have helped Starbucks endure is beyond measure.” He added that he looks "forward to supporting this next generation of leaders to steward Starbucks into the future as a customer, supporter and advocate in my role as chairman emeritus.”

After purchasing Starbucks in 1987, Schultz headed the company as CEO until 2000 and again between 2008 and 2017. He later came out of retirement to return as interim CEO while the company searched for a new chief executive last year — but bid farewell to that title after Laxman Narasimhan officially took the reins in March.

Also on Wednesday, Starbucks announced that Wei Zhang, who most recently served as senior advisor to e-commerce company Alibaba Group, has been elected to the board effective Oct. 1.

For its third fiscal quarter ended in July, Starbucks reported record revenue — with same-store sales (or sales at stores open at least a year) notably jumping 46% in China, reversing last year’s declines due to COVID restrictions. Still, the chain's revenue and same-store sales were lower than expected as North American store traffic slowed.

The Seattle-based coffee giant said its overall revenue for the period rose 12% to $9.2 billion in the quarter — slightly under to analysts' expected revenue of $9.3 billion, according to FactSet. Meanwhile, the company’s net income rose 25% to $1.1 billion, or 99 cents per share. Excluding restructuring costs, the company earned $1 per share — higher than the 95 cents analysts forecast.

In recent months, Starbucks and Schultz also came under fire over allegations that the company violated labor laws amid workers' unionization efforts. During his time as interim CEO, Schultz was called on by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and others to testify.

In a March appearance before the committee, Schultz insisted the coffee chain hasn’t broken labor laws and is willing to bargain with unionized workers — but was also firm in his stance that the company provides good wages and benefits and doesn’t need a union. The National Labor Relations Board previously charged Starbucks with hundreds of labor law violations, including firing labor organizers and illegally closing unionized stores.