EXCLUSIVE: Starbucks new CEO: 'I can't try to be Howard. I'm not Howard.'

Schultz: Johnson is better prepared to be CEO
Schultz: Johnson is better prepared to be CEO

As Kevin Johnson takes over the reins from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, he'll be stepping into a role once filled by a visionary leader who earned his reputation building an iconic brand.

In an interview with CNBC's "Squawk Box," Schultz expressed confidence in Johnson's ability to meet this challenge.

Schultz said that his 56-year-old hand-selected successor is "well-equipped to take the company to the next level."

"What was clear was Kevin's ability," Schultz said. "He is much better prepared to manage the global operations of the company than I am at this stage."

Schultz, 63, also touted Johnson's technology experience, which Schultz expects will be able to be used to enhance the consumer experience.

Johnson has led efforts to integrate mobile pay apps into Starbucks' customer experience and operations. Before joining Starbucks, he worked closely with Steve Ballmer at Microsoft and served as the CEO of Juniper Networks.

Johnson also seems to understand that comparisons will be made between him and Schultz.

"I can't try to be Howard. I'm not Howard." Johnson said, explaining that he needs to be authentic in his new role.

Schultz and Johnson have a solid working relationship, forged over the last decade, and the two co-authored an "ambitious five-year plan" that will drive sales throughout the company.

As part of that plan, Johnson said the company will continue to develop its in-store and digital customer experiences globally and with its licensed partners as well as work to "crack the code on lunch," a notoriously difficult venture for the company.

Schultz was quick to remind investors on Friday that he will still be part of the company, just in a different capacity, and that Johnson is the ideal candidate for CEO.

"He is managing the business. He's managing the team. He's setting the strategy. I'm here to help and support," Schultz said. "There should be no misunderstanding whatsoever. And Kevin Johnson is well-equipped to take the company to the next level. And that's going to be a wonderful opportunity for our shareholders."

The changes will take place on April 3 and will allow Schultz, who will remain executive chairman, the time to focus on converting Starbucks' Reserve Roastery-branded coffee bars into destination restaurants.

These "megastores," at 4,000 square-feet are twice the sizeof typical Starbucks and are designed to offer small-batch roastings of "rare and exotic" Reserve coffees. The company's flagship Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opened in its home market of Seattle in 2014.

The company plans to open six Roastery locations by the end of 2019. One of these large emporium stores is planned for Manhattan and another in Shanghai, with others to come in the next few years.

The hope is that these locations will become destinations in their own right, rather than a place to stop while you're at the mall. This is key to future growth as more consumers shop online and visit brick-and-mortar stores less often.

Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982 as director of operations and marketing when the company had only four stores. Over time, he grew it to more than 25,000 stores in 75 countries.

This will not be the first time Schultz has vacated the CEO role: He had previously served as the company's chief executive from 1987 to 2000 and returned to the position in 2008.

This time is different, he said.

"I left right at the beginning of the cataclysmic financial crisis, and Starbucks had a very difficult time navigating through that," he said. "We did not have the quality of the team and the resources we have now."

On a more personal note, Schultz of his previous departure, "I don't think I was emotionally prepared to leave the company and not meddle at that time in my life."

Johnson joined the Starbucks' management team in 2015 and has served on the board since 2009.

Still, news of the departure was surprising to investors, who sent shares tumbling after the market close on Thursday. Just ahead of the bell Friday, the stock was down 3.2 percent.

"The negative initial perception (and stock reaction) to the leadership transition is understandable and the timing likely will raise questions," BMO said. "The transition of Howard Schultz, the visionary at the core of Starbucks' success over time, away from the CEO role is likely to create a sense of trepidation among investors, particularly given the eventual deterioration in the company's performance after he last stepped down from the position."

Stifel analyst Mark Astrachan wrote in a research note Thursday, "We are not surprised that Mr. Schultz has chosen to step back from day-to-day operations and that Mr. Johnson was appointed his replacement, but we view the timing as notable given the heightened level of strategic endeavors the company currently has ongoing."