ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The man who built Starbucks into a worldwide empire is finally parting ways with his company. Howard Schultz is retiring, stepping down as the executive chairman of Starbucks. This means a new wave of speculation has started that he may be looking to get into politics.
NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to catch us up. Hi, Alina.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Hi.
SHAPIRO: Before we talk about the significance of Schultz leaving, let's talk about the significance of his career because he is really a giant in the business world.
SELYUKH: He is definitely the guy you study in business school, you know, the guy who took a small chain out of Seattle and grew it into 28,000 stores in 77 countries - in some cases, like, within a block of each other. He's known also for his pretty progressive and sometimes aggressive views on how corporations should take on social responsibility. Starbucks and Schultz talk a lot about offering good benefits to workers, sometimes giving shares to part-time workers. He took a strong stand on hiring refugees, paying for school for workers, that sort of thing.
SHAPIRO: Disclosure - my first high school job was at a Starbucks in Portland, Ore., back when it was just a Pacific Northwest coffee chain. When we look at how much it's grown, it feels like Howard Schultz and Starbucks really kind of created a mass culture of coffee drinking.
SELYUKH: And to be clear, Howard Schultz is also definitely the guy who convinced Americans to pay $5 for a cup of coffee...
SELYUKH: ...With regularity. And the story goes that he was really obsessed with coffee bars in Italy after he took a trip there in 1983.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
HOWARD SCHULTZ: You don't want to re-steam milk when you're making a perfect shot of espresso.
SELYUKH: So he spent a lot of time thinking how to make that fancy cup of coffee people would pay $5 for while also making a lot of money. And he also spends a lot of time on this idea of creating a, quote, "third place" for people to gather.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
SCHULTZ: Can something get big and stay small? And not unlike the English pub in the U.K., Starbucks really has created something quite important in America and all around the world, and that is this third place between home and work.
SELYUKH: This was from an interview he did with NPR a few years ago. And of course, this idea of this third place has been in the news quite a bit because of the incident that happened in Philadelphia where two African-American men were arrested while sitting at Starbucks without ordering anything. And Schultz spearheaded this very highly publicized anti-bias training for the entire chain that took place last week.
SHAPIRO: So I mentioned the political speculation. What is...
SHAPIRO: ...Next for Howard Schultz and for the company he built?
SELYUKH: So Howard Schultz is cagey about whether he will or he will not run for president. He's not discounting the possibility. To The New York Times, he said that he's deeply concerned about the country, the, quote, "growing division at home." He's trying to figure out what his role is going forward. Officially, he's going to write a book and work on the foundation.
For Starbucks, they now have to chart their own territory. The company is losing its standard bearer, the man who is synonymous with the company. They haven't done so well in the previous times when he left, but now they have to figure it out.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Alina Selyukh on the departure of Howard Schultz from Starbucks. Thanks so much, Alina.
SELYUKH: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SLIM'S "AMSTERDAM BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.