Leadership

3 ways CEO Kevin Johnson's leadership style could shape Starbucks

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It's the beginning of a new era for Starbucks as Howard Schultz steps down after more than three decades as CEO, and former COO Kevin Johnson assumes the role.

The coffee giant hopes to add some 12,000 stores over the next five years to its current 26,000, including its new upscale off-shoot, Roastery. It also hopes to expand its mobile technology efforts, which has become a key part of the company's growth.

Since purchasing Starbucks' original six locations in 1987, Schultz has grown the company from a small chain to the international behemoth it is today. His priority of "conscious capitalism," even after setbacks, has helped the company reach an increasingly socially conscious consumer.

As Johnson puts it, he has "venti-sized shoes" to fill.

"I can't try to be Howard. I'm not Howard," Johnson told CNBC in a December interview on Squawk Box.

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Before taking the helm, Johnson served as Starbucks' COO, an executive at Microsoft and the CEO of Juniper Networks, a cloud and network solutions company. He prides himself on being an authentic leader.

Here are three things that have defined his career so far:

1. He isn't afraid to make big changes

When Johnson left Microsoft to lead Juniper Networks, the U.S. economy was entering one of its worst crises ever. During his first week in 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed. It was clear that in order to survive, big changes needed to be made.

How Johnson handled the unexpected changes thrown his way reveals how he tackles problems.

"I was hired to scale up the company and take it to the next level," he wrote of his time at Juniper, in a blog post on McKinsey & Company's website. "The status quo wasn't going to get us there, and I didn't have all the time in the world."

An executive told Johnson, "if you haven't made enough of the changes you need to make in the first 12 to 18 months, it's going to be too late."

He took that to heart and set up a 100 day plan before he even took office.

The strategy included "how I would invest my time and the key people I needed to connect with — the leadership team, employees, key customers, investors, partners and the board."

On his first day, he started making those changes happen.

2. He prioritizes employees

A former colleague of Johnson named Brad Brooks, who worked with Johnson during his time at Microsoft and Juniper Networks, says he makes a point of encouraging employees to become part of the company's growth.

"There are few people you would strap on your soldier gear and go to war with," Brooks tells USA Today. "Kevin is one of them."

Former Microsoft manager Sheila Gulati told Geek Wire that Johnson started an internal program where any employee could submit an application for funds to create his or her own project. Johnson's open-minded approach encouraged professionals to be innovative and collaborative.

At Juniper Networks, part of his strategy as a newly-hired CEO, he says, was to meet with and learn from as many employees as he could.

3. He sees technology as a crucial part of business

Though Johnson started his career as an engineer at IBM, he doesn't consider himself a techie.

But his leadership roles in marketing and sales involved working closely with tech-focused teams, and this showed him how essential technology is to business growth, he writes in a post on Starbucks' website.

At Juniper Networks, Johnson said he felt responsible to "create the conditions" for his team to " innovate and create new products and technologies," according to his McKinsey post.

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While COO of Starbucks, he helped the coffee giant build its loyalty program and mobile rewards app into a significant source of revenue. According to The American City Business Journals, the Starbucks app accounts for 25 percent of product purchases.

Its popularity has even become an issue at stores, where lines for pick-up from mobile orders are so long they discourage some customers from entering. It will likely be a major issue Johnson will have to tackle, as recently-added voice ordering technology enables customers to order Starbucks through Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa.

"Particularly in the beginning," he writes, "it's important to look at the way you sequence decisions and actions."

It seems likely the coffee giant may see some venti-sized changes under Johnson's leadership.

Check out 13 inspiring quotes on leadership and success from Schultz.