Founder of Starbucks returns to try to put it back on track

The founder of the coffee company returns to try to put it back on track.

— -- It's back to the future for Starbucks — and its corporate founder.

Howard Schultz, whose vision 25 years ago took Starbucks sbux from a handful of stores to an international behemoth with 15,000 locations worldwide, has returned as its CEO with this promise: Starbucks is returning to its roots.

"I am dissatisfied more than anyone else where we sit today," he said in a hastily called conference call with industry analysts. "We have a lot to do."

Starbucks' competitive map has changed drastically. The CEO change came the same day that McDonald's mcdbegan to detail aggressive plans to invade Starbucks' turf by selling — at lower prices — such Starbucks favorites as cappuccino and lattes.

For Starbucks, the plan is basic, yet startling: return to the essence of what made it special.

"Starbucks must simplify and amplify," says Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of food service strategies at WD Partners, a consulting firm.

To do that, Schultz hosted an end-of-the-day analysts call where he ticked off a series of steps to get Starbucks back on track.

•He's taking charge. Gone is CEO Jim Donald, whose job Schultz has taken over immediately. And "It's for the long term," Schultz says.

•Growth plans are changing. Schultz said he plans to slow growth and close "a number" of slower-performing stores in the U.S. market. He declined to say where or how many, but noted many of the stores will be among those opened more recently when real estate decisions were made that "outstretched" Starbucks' relationship with customers. He promised more details in a Jan. 30 announcement.

He plans to boost international growth. He mentioned Mexico as a nation where interest has greatly exceeded expectations. He also pointed to Canada and the United Kingdom as growth markets.

•Coffee will be king. "We're going to focus on the Starbucks experience," he said. Some of the non-coffee tchotchkes sold at its stores are expected to get the ax.

•Management will be streamlined. Schultz said layers of bureaucracy will be cut.

•New products are on tap. Schultz declined to be specific but said Starbucks has recently been deeply involved in creating lighter, better-for-you products. He said the chain plans to tap into its biggest fans, Starbucks card holders, with promotions.

Schultz made clear that Starbucks will not solve its problems overnight. "There is no silver bullet and no overnight fixes," he said, but added, "There will be a focus that hasn't been around here for a long time."

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