On Monday, just hours before Mr. Schultz planned to send a letter to the company’s 350,000 employees around the world announcing his decision, he visited Starbucks’s first store at Pike Place Market for the last time as its leader.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years,” he said. “Taking my green apron off is hard. It is emotional. More emotional than I thought it would be.”
“I told myself a long time ago that if I was ever going to explore a second act, I couldn’t do it while still at the company,” he added.
Mr. Schultz’s legacy as an entrepreneur will be defined as much for his vision to create a global coffee chain as for his progressive approach to running the company — or, as he has often said, “to build the company my father never got to work for.”
Mr. Schultz, who grew up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, said watching his father, a World War II veteran who became a truck driver and later a taxi driver, struggle to make enough money to pay for basics had led him to offer complete health benefits for full- and part-time employees and their domestic partners, a first for such a chain. He later provided stock options for part-time workers and offered to cover college tuition for students enrolled in online courses at Arizona State University.
“Howard proved that a company could be more successful and profitable by elevating humanity,” said Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and a Starbucks director who will become vice chairwoman when Mr. Schultz steps down.
Under Mr. Schultz, the company’s financial success has been immense. Shares of Starbucks have risen 21,000 percent since the company’s initial public offering in 1992; an investor who had put in $10,000 then would have more than $2 million today.