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A conversation with new Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson counts a timepiece from the late 19th century and a book from the early 21st century among his most treasured possessions.

The newly minted successor to Howard Schultz as Starbucks chief executive officer keeps the former at his home. A restored pocket watch originally owned by his great-grandfather, who repaired railroad tracks in the Dakotas, it reminds Johnson of family, perseverance and the value of hard work.

“He operated one of those handcars. The pocket watch was very important because it would tell him when the train was coming and he had to get off the track,” Johnson said with a laugh.

The book, which he keeps in his office at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, is “Be Quick, But Don’t Hurry,” a 2001 collection of advice and aphorisms from John Wooden, whose UCLA basketball teams were setting a still-unsurpassed standard of success when Johnson was developing his hoops game as a youth growing up in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Wooden, who died in 2010 at the age of 99, was famous for his meticulous approach to coaching, which began with teaching new recruits how to properly pull on their socks and lace up their shoes.

“I would study everything about John Wooden,” Johnson recalled. “I even gave speeches about some of the lessons he taught about paying attention to the details. Coach Wooden heard about that and signed a book for me. He wrote: ‘To Kevin, Best wishes. Keep those socks pulled up.’

“The thing I liked is UCLA always played as a team. I believe the power of a team is greater than any individual on the team.”

Johnson, a member of the Starbucks Board of Directors since 2009, was appointed president and chief operating officer in March 2015. Beginning today (April 3), he takes over as chief executive officer while outgoing ceo Howard Schultz becomes executive chairman and shifts his focus to innovation, design and development of Starbucks Reserve® Roasteries around the world, expansion of the Starbucks Reserve® retail store format and the company’s social impact initiatives.

A longtime executive in the tech industry who spent 16 years at Microsoft and five years as ceo of Juniper Networks, Johnson also served on the National Telecommunications Advisory Committee under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Seated in his office overlooking the Seattle skyline, Johnson talked about his formative experiences in sports and computing, his path to Starbucks and his resolve after a health scare to “spend my time with things that are joyful, with people I love.”

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