Starbucks Corp <SBUX.O> Executive Chairman Howard Schultz is stepping down, effective June 26, the world's biggest coffee chain said on Monday, fuelling speculation that the outspoken, liberal-leaning executive will make a U.S. presidential bid.
Schultz, 64, has been with Starbucks for nearly four decades and built it into one of the world's most powerful global brands. Under his leadership, the Seattle-based coffeeshop chain went from 11 cafes to more than 28,000 in 77 countries.
In recent years, he has repeatedly denied that he would make a move into politics, but he appeared to be more open to the idea of running for public office in an interview with CNN last week.
Asked specifically about a U.S. presidential run Schultz, said in a New York Times article on Monday: "I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service. But I'm a long way from making any decisions about the future."
Schultz added that he has for some time been "deeply concerned about our country - the growing division at home and our standing in the world. "One of the things I want to do in my next chapter is to figure out if there is a role I can play in giving back," he said, adding: "I'm not exactly sure what that means yet."
Starbucks declined to make Schultz and other Starbucks executives and board members available for comment.
Last year, Schultz stepped down as chief executive officer to become executive chairman, handing the top job to Kevin Johnson.
Still, Schultz was heavily involved in steering the company through an anti-bias training programme after a Philadelphia cafe manager's call to police resulted in the arrests of two black men who were waiting for a friend.
Starbucks' board named Myron Ullman, previously chairman and CEO of struggling retailer J.C. Penney Co <JCP.N>, as its new chair, and Mellody Hobson as vice chair effective upon Schultz's retirement.
Schultz will also resign from Starbucks' board and will be named chairman emeritus, the company said in a statement.