- Rossann Williams, Starbucks’ EVP and president of U.S. retail and Canada, will be leaving the company on June 21, Starbucks COO John Culver said in a letter to employees that was viewed by Restaurant Dive. Williams was offered another position at the company, but decided to resign. Starbucks did not provide additional details on what role was offered to Williams.
- Sara Trilling, Starbucks’ SVP and president of Asia Pacific, will oversee Starbucks North America starting June 21. Trilling has been with the company since 2002.
- Williams and interim CEO Howard Schultz have been at the center of Starbucks’ response to the union drive within the company. Notably, Williams met with baristas in Buffalo, New York, to try to quash unionization.
Williams’ exit comes amid major corporate reshuffling overseen by Schultz, who has said the company needs “a different kind” of leadership going forward. Several executives have recently left the company including its general counsel, who left in May. Earlier this month, Schultz said Starbucks would hire an external candidate to fill the CEO role.
“I don't know that the unionization efforts had anything to do with any of these decisions,” said Reggie Borges, a spokesman for Starbucks. “Rossann has been a leader for the company for 17 years. You speak to any partner who's had the opportunity to engage with her directly and work with her would say that she brings all of the values that make wearing the green apron such a special opportunity for anybody.”
Williams will help Trilling during her transition through June and then Cliff Burrows, who joined Starbucks as an advisor, will support Trilling over the next few months, Borges said.
Along with aggressive unionization across its stores — over 100 locations have since unionized — the company has also been struggling to meet consumer demand, especially as online orders ramped up during the pandemic. As recent as this week, Starbucks experienced several technical glitches that disrupted mobile orders and credit card transactions.
“We're coming out of a two year pandemic, where there were a lot of challenges, both from a partner and from a customer perspective, and what we've seen coming out of this is an opportunity for us to really rethink what that experience looks like,” Borges said.
During the company’s second quarter earnings call in May, Schultz said the company currently doesn’t have the capacity to meet growing demand and will have drive-thrus at 90% of its new stores. The locations will have a new design and incorporate more technology, like handheld devices and equipment aimed to increase efficiency, speed and profitability.
With such changes to its North America business, it made sense to bring on new leadership to oversee this next phase at Starbucks, Borges said, adding that the company did not take Williams’ departure lightly and wanted her to stay on in a different role.
Recently, C-suite roles have been filled by external candidates, including Frank Britt as chief strategy officer, who previously served as Penn Foster’s CEO. Deb Hall Lefevre, who previously worked at McDonald’s, became chief technology officer in April.
But Trilling has been with Starbucks for 20 years and has extensive experience across multiple areas of the business, including store design, operations and category, Culver said. As head of Asia Pacific, she oversaw growth across its store count and digital offerings to help meet customer demand across 14 markets within the region, Culver said.
“I am confident that she will bring her rich experience and proven approach to servant leadership to advance our U.S. business transformation and help us reimagine the Starbucks Experience for our partners and customers, and in the stores we operate across North America,” Culver said, adding the Trilling will report directly to him in her new role.