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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Exits Early Amid Union Turmoil

After four decades as Starbucks‘ CEO and chairman, Howard Schultz has stepped down.

Laxman Narasimhan, the 55-year-old former CEO of U.K.-based consumer-products company Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, replaced Schultz on Monday, earlier than the anticipated April 1 transition, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Related: 10 Inspiring Quotes From Howard Schultz on Great Leadership and Business Success

The reasoning for the sooner-than-expected handover wasn’t immediately clear, but Narasimhan assumes the role as the company continues to battle mounting unionization efforts across the country.

Schultz and Narasimhan have worked closely together since the latter’s arrival months ago, the two men have said, per WSJ, but Narasimhan’s public position on unions isn’t as defined as Schultz’s — which contends that Starbucks can better address employee concerns than external organizations.

Casey Moore, an organizer and spokeswoman for the union Starbucks Workers United, told the outlet the group would “love to offer an olive branch” but remains “cautiously optimistic.”

Investors will discuss Starbucks’ response to the unionization push during the company’s annual shareholder meeting Thursday, and next week, Schultz will testify before a Senate committee on the company’s response to union organization.

Related: ‘Success Is Not an Entitlement; You Have to Earn It Every Day,’ Howard Schultz Says

“There are times when the responsibility for our partners, customers and communities around the world will feel heavy,” Schultz wrote in a letter to company leaders published on the Starbucks website on Monday. “But as partners, know that you are not shouldering the responsibility alone.”

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