Former Starbucks executive and billionaire entrepreneur Howard Schultz is very likely running for president in 2020. In an interview with CBS’ "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Schultz said he would run as an independent, a suggestion that has already caused concern amongcriticswhoworry Schultz could split the Democratic party and help President Donald Trump get re-elected.
Historian Nancy Koehn, a regular contributor on Boston Public Radio, has taught Schultz in multiple business courses at Harvard Business School. Koehn says Schultz will use his ongoing book tour for his latest book, "From the Ground Up: A Journey to Reimagine the Promise of America," to test the waters for a potential 2020 campaign.
“He’ll use the book tour as a testing ground, [testing] the pulse out there for someone who has relatively low name recognition, relative to other announced candidates, and for someone who doesn’t have a government resume in any way shape or form,” Koehn said on Boston Public Radio.
Despite that lack of previous political title, Schultz does have a politically-minded way of doing business: In 2011, Schultz led a pledge to end congressional gridlock by holding off on campaign contributions; in 2013, he petitioned for thousands of consumer signatures during the first government shutdown in 20 years; in 2014, Starbucks announced a full college tuition program for some employees, and most recently, Schultz spoke out last year against Trump’s travel ban for people from Muslim-majority countries.
“Schultz has said consistently, 'We believe that building an enduring successful company means you owe obligations to a variety of shareholders, and we will make a business commitment, a social and political commitment,'” Koehn said. “We think it’s good business to do that, and he’s held that line.”
From Koehn’s perspective, Schultz appears to be weighing his potential risks in a much more concerted and thoughtful way than most of his critics seem to think, having nearly been down this road before.
“He’s had a lot of people around him talking about running for president for well over six years,” Koehn said. “They were talking about Schultz as a candidate in 2012, very seriously … Because of the social track record of Schultz, and because clearly this is somebody who is itching to have impact, he used his company to have impact.”
As of now, Koehn believes Schultz will likely reflect on the barrage of feedback and criticism he has received this week and weigh his ultimate decision. With that said, Koehn predicts the presidential buzz may end up being merely used as leverage for future pursuits.
“The risk of fracturing or splintering the vote and helping Trump get re-elected are simply too high, but we don’t know,” Koehn said. “Maybe he’s testing the waters. This is a person who has tested all kinds of stuff in his life, including lattes.”
Nancy Koehn holds the James E. Robison Chair of business administration at the Harvard Business School. Her latest book is "Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times."
This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Robison.