(Reuters) - Starbucks Corp Executive Chairman Howard Schultz is stepping down, effective June 26, the world's biggest coffee chain said on Monday, fuelling speculation that the outspoken, liberal-leaning executive will make a U.S. presidential bid.
Schultz, 64, has been with Starbucks for nearly four decades and built it into one of the world's most powerful global brands. Under his leadership, the Seattle-based coffee shop chain went from 11 cafes to more than 28,000 in 77 countries.
In recent years, he has repeatedly denied that he would make a move into politics, but he appeared to be more open to the idea of running for public office in an interview with CNN last week.
Former Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz
Former Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz
Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz appears on the Fox Business Network's Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo television program in New York City, November 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD)
Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, poses for a portrait at his new Teavana store in New York, October 23, 2013. Starbucks Corp, which has doubled down on its tea bet, is opening its first Teavana tea bar in New York City this week, aiming to do for tea, the world's second most popular beverage after water, what it has done for coffee. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD)
Starbucks Corp Chief Executive Howard Schultz, pictured with images from the company's new "Race Together" project behind him, speaks during the company's annual shareholder's meeting in Seattle, Washington March 18, 2015. Schultz has deftly navigated thorny issues such as gay marriage, gun control and Congressional gridlock, but his move to weigh in on U.S. race relations has brewed up a social media backlash. The company kicked off the discussion when it published full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers earlier this week with the words "Shall We Overcome?" at center page and "RaceTogether" and the Starbucks logo near the bottom. REUTERS/David Ryder (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)
Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz speaks during the company's annual shareholder's meeting in Seattle, Washington March 18, 2015. Starbucks Corp will begin offering delivery in New York City and Seattle later this year, when it also plans to expand mobile order and pay services across the United States. REUTERS/David Ryder (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)
Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, attends a dinner reception for Chinese President Xi Jinping in Seattle, Washington September 22, 2015. Xi landed in Seattle on Tuesday to kick off a week-long U.S. visit that will include meetings with U.S. business leaders, a black-tie state dinner at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama and an address at the United Nations. REUTERS/Jason Redmond
Howard Schultz CEO of Starbucks poses during an interview with Reuters in Shanghai April 19, 2012. Starbucks Corp wants to make its mainland China expansion a family affair. The world's biggest coffee chain is opening cafes in China at a rate of one every four days in its quest to expand from about 570 shops today to more than 1,500 by 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (CHINA - Tags: BUSINESS COMMODITIES)
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks to shareholders about the company's partnership with the Keurig single-serve coffee brewing machine, at the company's annual meeting of shareholders in Seattle, Washington March 23, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Sorbo (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)
Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz talks to shareholders at the Starbucks Annual Shareholders meeting at McCaw Hall in Seattle, Washington March 19, 2008. REUTERS/Marcus R. Donner (UNITED STATES)
Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz speaks during an interview in Tokyo April 13, 2010. Starbucks plans to sell its Via brand instant coffee in grocery stores and other retail channels outside its own outlets in Japan in the future, Schultz said. To match interview STARBUCKS/JAPAN REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao (JAPAN - Tags: BUSINESS HEADSHOT)
Howard Schultz, the President of Starbucks Coffee Company takes a sip of coffee as he assists in the opening of his first coffee house in Paris, January 15, 2004. The coffee house is situated on Avenue de l'Opera at the heart of Paris' tourist district. REUTERS/Charles Platiau PP04010041 MAL/WS
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Asked specifically about a U.S. presidential run Schultz, said in a New York Times article on Monday: "I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service. But I'm a long way from making any decisions about the future."
Schultz added that he has for some time been "deeply concerned about our country - the growing division at home and our standing in the world. "One of the things I want to do in my next chapter is to figure out if there is a role I can play in giving back," he said, adding: "I'm not exactly sure what that means yet."
Starbucks declined to make Schultz and other Starbucks executives and board members available for comment.
Last year, Schultz stepped down as chief executive officer to become executive chairman, handing the top job to Kevin Johnson.
Still, Schultz was heavily involved in steering the company through an anti-bias training program after a Philadelphia cafe manager's call to police resulted in the arrests of two black men who were waiting for a friend.
Starbucks' board named Myron Ullman, previously chairman and CEO of struggling retailer J.C. Penney Co, as its new chair, and Mellody Hobson as vice chair effective upon Schultz's retirement.
Schultz will also resign from Starbucks' board and will be named chairman emeritus, the company said in a statement.
(Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)