Barista to CEO, the new Starbucks’ boss, Laxman Narasimhan prepared himself for the challenges ahead
March 30 - 2023
Coffee Geography Magazine
Laxman Narasimhan took the helm of Starbucks as the new Chief Executive Officer on Monday, but before that, he spent almost six months being mentored by Howard Schultz, meeting with hundreds of partners (employees) around the world, earning his barista certification, and diving into the world of coffee. As Starbucks welcomes Narasimhan to his new role as CEO at the Annual Meeting of Shareholders, the company takes a look back at the people he has met across the company and around the world.
“It’s been a remarkable experience for me – from our origins, where we buy coffee from over a half a million farmers, through our roasting plans, our distribution centers, and into our stores,” Narasimhan said. “This immersion has been an incredible journey and a gift.”
Narasimhan 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. Soon after, he met Starbucks partners at his first open forum on Sept. 8, 2022, three weeks before he officially joined the company Oct. 1. When Schultz, then interim Chief Executive Officer, introduced Narasimhan to partners, he said that “the leader of Starbucks, the future of the company, must be steeped in humility and must have an innate understanding of humanity.”
Schultz said as he got to know Narasimhan, he said 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.”
Narasimhan worked with Schultz to create a unique immersion to learn about the Starbucks culture and the business.
“This time with Howard in stores, in the roasting plants, with partners, with investors, with customers – it's an incredible opportunity for me to be learning from one of the best entrepreneurs in the world,” Narasimhan said.
Narasimhan began immersion as incoming CEO by earning his barista certification with four weeks of in-store training and visits to more than 30 stores around the world – working the drive-thru window, learning the point-of-sale system and perfecting the topping of a Pumpkin Spice Latte.
“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,” Narasimhan said. “There were things I learned through experience in all of this. It taught me a lot.”
Alli Mendoza, a barista in Houston, was one of the partners who trained Narasimhan on the espresso bar. “People ask me what it’s like to train the CEO, like ‘Really, how was it?’” Mendoza said. “He loved interacting with people, he loves laughing and making people laugh. He just wants to learn and be a CEO who’s there for us.”
In his visits to Starbucks stores, Narasimhan sat down with store managers, district managers and regional directors for their input and guidance. He said, “One piece of advice I hope to really live by was actually a question I was asked by a terrific store manager: ‘Did you earn your green apron today?’ It really got me reflective and thinking about how I could end each day in the future with that question, and hope that most days, the answer would be ‘yes.’”
Narasimhan experienced the journey of Starbucks coffee from the first 10 feet to the last, starting from the fields where coffee is grown (such as Hacienda Alsacia above), to roasting plants in the United States and Europe, and Starbucks stores in London, Amsterdam, Japan, and the United States. Along the way, Narasimhan sipped countless cups of coffee. His favorite? Coffee from Guatemala.