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Howard Schultz slams Ackman over JC Penney fight

Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had choice words Friday for J.C. Penney's largest shareholder, Bill Ackman, and his very public campaign to replace the retailer's CEO and chairman of the board.

"What, I think, we all witnessed over the last 24 hours is such a despicable act; something so irresponsible that a board member of an existing public company would release and leak an email without sharing it with the board or the CEO is beyond comprehension," Schultz told CNBC's "Closing Bell."

He was referring to a three-page letter released by Ackman late Thursday, in which the activist investor urged J.C. Penney's board to replace Chairman Thomas Engibous.

Starbucks Schultz on Ackman's battle with JCP
Starbucks Schultz on Ackman's battle with JCP

(Read more: Ackman's latest letter)

Ackman has also pushed to more quickly replace CEO Myron Ullman, who was brought back in April to stem sales declines blamed on Ron Johnson, Ackman's pick to turn around the struggling century-old department store chain.

In an earlier letter, made public Thursday, the billionaire hedge fund manager behind Pershing Square Capital Management expressed frustration at the slow pace of the CEO search and pushed the retailer to name a top executive in 30 to 45 days.

(Read more: JC Penney board erupts into fight over next CEO)

To Schultz, though, the irony is that Ackman had a heavy hand in the retailer's recent struggles.

"Ackman was the primary engineer and architect of recruiting Ron Johnson to the company, and he and Ron Johnson pulled off this strategy that has fractured the company and ruined the lives of thousands of J.C. Penney employees and fractured shareholder value," Schultz said, adding that he's confident Ullman could turn things around if only given more time to perform.

Ullman serves on Starbucks' board. Schultz disclosed that he is not a JCP shareholder and has never met Ackman.

—By CNBC's Drew Sandholm. Follow him on Twitter @DrewSandholm

—Reuters contributed to this report