Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan Visits China, Empowering Partners in the Coffee Industry

Embarking on his first visit outside of North America since assuming the role of CEO at Starbucks on March 20, Laxman Narasimhan set foot in Shanghai and Beijing, immersing himself in the rich coffee culture of China, the second-largest market for Starbucks worldwide.

Expressing his eagerness to learn from the local partners, Narasimhan addressed a large gathering during an open forum, expressing his gratitude for their warm welcome. “I have so much to learn from all of you,” he humbly stated. Throughout his trip, Narasimhan visited numerous stores of various formats, explored the upcoming Starbucks China Coffee Innovation Park, and much more. Each location offered a unique insight into the extraordinary Starbucks experience enjoyed by Chinese partners and customers.

This visit comes shortly after the legendary Starbucks founder and chairman emeritus, Howard Schultz, visited partners in Beijing, where the first Starbucks store in China was established in 1999. Schultz’s profound vision for the Chinese market, as well as his unwavering support for partners, has left an indelible mark. Narasimhan, now sharing Schultz’s passion, conveyed his deep respect for the partners, their passion, and their unwavering dedication.

Over the past 25 years, Starbucks has grown from a single store in China to over 6,200 stores across 240 cities. This remarkable achievement owes much to the leadership of Belinda Wong, the chairwoman and CEO of Starbucks China, and the exceptionally strong all-Chinese leadership team. Narasimhan commended Wong and her team for their pivotal role in transforming Starbucks into a premier brand in China, creating remarkable store experiences, fostering relationships with stakeholders, and contributing to the specialty coffee industry. Their commitment extends beyond the business realm, encompassing the well-being of the 60,000 partners in China, with notable investments in critical illness insurance for partners and their parents.

Expressing his appreciation for the resilience demonstrated by Wong, her leadership team, and all the partners in China, Narasimhan emphasized Starbucks’ long-term commitment to the country. “We have been here for 24 years. We want to be here for the next 25 and the next hundred beyond that… We have limitless possibilities in China – limitless.”

Becoming truly global and driving innovation are among Starbucks’ top priorities, and Narasimhan sees China at the forefront of both endeavors. China’s innovative approach extends not only to the products offered but also to the creation of connections between people. Whether through popup stores in Beijing or inspiring environments like the Starbucks heritage culture gallery store in Beijing, China is building bridges and fostering human connections, aligning perfectly with Starbucks’ mission.

Narasimhan’s visit also involved a delightful encounter with one of Starbucks’ pet-friendly stores in China, where owners and their pets can enjoy special menu items and dedicated seating areas.

During partner open forums held in Beijing and Shanghai, Narasimhan shared his vision for the future and engaged in coffee tastings led by partners. He took the opportunity to meet every partner personally, showcasing his dedication to understanding the realities of working in a retail store. Partners, in turn, expressed their excitement and confidence in Starbucks’ future, inspired by Narasimhan’s genuine interest and ability to remember their names and stories.

Partners eagerly shared their encounters with Narasimhan through the China Partner App, expressing gratitude for his warm gestures and affirming the sense of warmth, happiness, and belonging that characterizes their experiences at Starbucks.

The visit to China also allowed Narasimhan to witness Starbucks’ commitment to sustainability, as he visited Greener Stores designed to meet specific environmental impact standards. These stores, including the first Greener Store in China located in Shanghai, exemplify Starbucks’ dedication to giving more than it takes from the environment.

At the Starbucks Support Center in Shanghai, Narasimhan engaged with partners across various departments, from coffee and marketing to R&D, store development, technology, finance, and human resources. He highlighted the importance of humility and continuous learning in his leadership approach.

Starbucks’ commitment to connection extends beyond its stores. In China, the company offers innovative services such as curbside pickup and delivery, as well as a range of packaged coffee and ready-to-drink beverages at grocery stores, ensuring they can meet customers wherever they may be.

Narasimhan’s journey in China culminated with a visit to the China Coffee Innovation Park, Starbucks’ largest manufacturing investment outside of the U.S. and its first in Asia. Set to open in Kunshan, near Shanghai, this state-of-the-art facility will showcase sustainable practices across the entire coffee journey and serve as a testament to Starbucks’ ongoing commitment to innovation and sustainability.

Throughout his visit, Narasimhan emphasized the joy of human connection and the limitless possibilities that arise from sharing stories, nurturing relationships, and uplifting the daily lives of customers. His trip to China solidified his belief in the power of Starbucks’ green apron, woven together by the vibrant fabric of partners’ stories.

As Narasimhan departed China, partners expressed their hope for more frequent visits, acknowledging the profound impact his firsthand experience of China’s rapid changes and development will have on shaping Starbucks’ future in the country.

In summary, Laxman Narasimhan’s transformative journey in China reaffirmed Starbucks’ commitment to its partners, customers, and the limitless potential of human connections. It served as a testament to the remarkable growth and shared aspirations of Starbucks and China, promising a brighter future filled with joy, belonging, and care.

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