Edit
Leadership

Howard Schultz for president? No.

A run would not just tarnish the Starbucks founder’s image, but also that of the company, says RB’s The Bottom Line.

Should Howard Schultz run for president? RB Executive Editor Jonathan Maze and Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo offer opposing points of view. For the alternate take, see Reality Check.

the bottom line

Howard Schultz should not run for president.

Schultz, the Starbucks founder, might have plenty of reasons to consider an independent bid. He is clearly no fan of President Trump. And he also believes that Democrats have gone too far to the left.

Schultz could self-fund his own campaign catering to the middle ground, which is often left out and forced to pick between the lesser of two evils.

And yet he still should not run. He has a lot to lose, and not just for himself, but for the company he founded and worked so hard to build into one of the most highly respected restaurant chains in the world.

Starbucks was a stroke of genius. Schultz proved that consumers would spend a couple of bucks for a cup of coffee. And his model also proved that it’s good business to convince consumers to stick around for a few hours rather than churn them through as quickly as possible.

More recently, Starbucks has pioneered the use of technology and brought the loyalty program into the 21st century. And the company has graciously given all of us fallback gift options for friends and co-workers and teachers thanks to its innovative use of gift card technology.

Indeed—thank you, Howard Schultz, for making my Christmas gift giving that much easier every year. Don’t know what to get somebody? Just get a Starbucks gift card.

We need that sort of innovative thinking inside the halls of government.

But that still should not be Howard Schultz, for very practical purposes. First, he is unlikely to win, and second, he could hurt that brand.

The simple fact is, the U.S. political system is built to favor two parties. You may not like it—I don’t—but that’s reality.

In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot ran a third-party campaign that received as much attention as any in modern history. He participated in all three debates, got a lot of publicity and received 19% of the vote in an election that Bill Clinton won. And Perot didn’t even spoil the race—polls later found that Clinton would have simply won by a larger margin without the billionaire in the race.

What’s more, as political site FiveThirtyEight says, relatively few people are truly independent—noting a Gallup poll that says roughly 88% of Americans identify with one of the two parties, adding in people who “lean” toward Democrats or Republicans.

As well-known as Schultz may be, therefore, he has relatively little chance of ultimately winning by running as an independent.

Schultz’s potential entrance into an already crowded 2020 presidential race was greeted with a lot of publicity—but he wasn’t exactly cheered along the way. Critics labeled it a “vanity project.” Fellow moderate billionaire Mike Bloomberg urged Schultz not to run. Schultz has been heckled at book signings, and Fox Business said that he was shocked at the negative reaction.

But that’s what you get for running for president. It’s the price you pay. Yet I believe Starbucks would also pay a price.

The chain is taking great pains to distance itself from its former chairman and CEO, but you cannot separate the two, no matter what happens. Starbucks paid Schultz $30 million just last year, after all. And Schultz is building his entire campaign based on what he created with the company.

Political boycotts almost never work, and even when they do, there is enough of an opposite reaction to offset anything. Yet this is completely uncharted territory, and it’s impossible for me to imagine this being a long-term positive for Starbucks if Schultz runs and influences the market one way or the other.

There’s a reason companies urge their chief executives to stay away from major political issues. It’s advice that Schultz should heed, even if he no longer has a role with the company.

Trending

More from our partners