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Laxman Narasimhan will lead starbucks as its new CEO, Who is he? Here’s some interesting things about him

Sep 2, 2022
starbucks stall grayscale photo

Laxman Narasimhan joins the league of many other Indian-Americans who are heading prominent companies in the US. (Photo credit: Mckinsey)

Coffee giant Starbucks announced Laxman Narasimhan as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on Thursday (September 1). Narasimhan has previously worked for PepsiCo and Mckinsey and was most recently the CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, an Anglo-Dutch company that primarily produces health and nutrition consumer goods.

Narasimhan joins the league of many other Indian-Americans who are heading prominent companies in the US. He is also taking over at Starbucks at a time when discussions over increasing the minimum wage for workers and unionisation are taking centre stage in America, with Starbucks featuring prominently.

Who is Laxman Narasimhan?

Narasimhan was born in Pune, Maharashtra, and got a degree in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, University of Pune. In an interview with The Sunday Times in May this year, he said his childhood was “tough”, recalling the death of his older sister who passed away before he was born, and how his elder brother died at the age of eight due to kidney infections.

His father established a machine services business that supplied parts to the US, which saw its own ups and downs. He spent his college days regularly travelling home to care for his father who fell severely ill at the time. Of growing up in India, he said, “you learn resilience, you learn tolerance, you learn to find a way through”.

A “collection of scholarships and two jobs” helped Narasimhan go abroad for further studies. As per a profile by The Telegraph, he left India for post-graduation in his early 20s, earning an MA in German and International Studies from The Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He also has an MBA in Finance from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania.

According to the World Economic Forum’s profile on Narasimhan, “He has worked across multiple industries, including consumer, retail, energy, manufacturing, technology and healthcare; he has led assignments in the public sector, particularly in education and skill building.” Before PepsiCo, Laxman was a director and location manager of McKinsey’s New Delhi office, where he worked for 19 years until 2012 and held several positions around the world.

He is also involved in many think tanks, as a Trustee of the Brookings Institution, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellow of the Foreign Policy Association, and an Advisory Board member of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

What’s next for Starbucks, with Narasimhan at the helm?

Narasimhan will join Starbucks in October but take charge only in April 2023, after spending a few months learning about the company and its “reinvention” plan, which includes paying better wages for baristas, improving employee welfare and customer experience and re-imagining stores, reported Reuters.

With the growth of unionisation in some Starbucks stores and challenges due to the pandemic, the company is trying to shift towards focusing on deliveries and take-outs rather than in-person dining. Restrictions in China due to frequent lockdowns have also impacted sales, as there are more than 5,400 stores in the country.

Current Starbuck CEO Howard Schultz was quoted by The New York Times as saying in an interview, “We were looking for somebody that was a true servant leader that had a deep sense of humility… Laxman first and foremost is a true servant leader.” A servant leader is someone who prioritises the development of employees at a company and the community, rather than focusing only on the company’s growth.

A statement from Starbucks said: “Known for his considerable operational expertise, he has a proven track record in developing purpose-led brands. Building on companies’ histories, he has succeeded in rallying talent to deliver on future ambitions by driving consumer-centric and digital innovations”.

Narasimhan said Starbucks’ efforts to “uplift humanity through connection and compassion has long distinguished the company, building an unrivalled, globally admired brand that has transformed the way we connect over coffee.”

“I am humbled to be joining this iconic company at such a pivotal time, as the reinvention and investments in the partner and customer experiences position us to meet the changing demands we face today and set us up for an even stronger future,” he said.

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