Starbucks’ No. 2 Exec to Take Extended Leave of Absence

SEATTLE (The Seattle Times/TNS) -

In a surprising turn, Starbucks said chief operating officer Troy Alstead will take an extended, unpaid leave of absence starting in March.

Alstead is in charge of running the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest coffee company, a job he’s held for less than a year. The post of chief operating officer was created when CEO Howard Schultz announced in January 2014 that he would seek to focus on innovation and big-picture strategy for the company.

Starbucks spokesman Jim Olson said Alstead, who previously held the title of chief financial officer, “has been wanting to spend some time with his family for a while,” and talked with Schultz about doing it as far back as 2008, but the CEO persuaded him to stay to help turn the company around at a critical moment.

Now, after having delivered strong financial results and putting the company in a firm position, it’s “the right time to make this decision,” Olson said. “It’s a very personal decision for him.”

Olson said the company would provide more details about transition plans at Starbucks’ first-quarter earnings call, scheduled for Jan. 22. Alstead’s last day will be March 1.

Alstead’s departure comes in the wake of several years of stellar results, but at a time when Starbucks must figure out ways to keep momentum going and investors happy. Last month, the company announced ambitious growth plans — including nearly doubling its annual revenue to about $30 billion by 2019.

Alstead has been with Starbucks since 1992, when the company had about 100 stores; it now has more than 20,000. He was one of the pioneers of the company’s international operations, and worked in Europe and China.

“Troy’s humanity and humility will be missed and we wish him the best,” Schultz said in a press release.