Starbucks Promotes General Counsel to ‘Chief Partner Officer’

Starbucks Promotes General Counsel to ‘Chief Partner Officer’

Earlier this month, Starbucks promoted Lucy Helm, its general counsel and an 18-year veteran of the company, to a new C-suite position of Chief Partner Officer—essentially a chief human resources officer, but with a title that reflects Starbucks’ practice of referring to its employees as “partners”—Michelle Rafter writes at Workforce:

Helm took over for Scott Pitasky on an interim basis after he left in April to become vice president of HR/consumer at Amazon. Pitasky had been the company’s chief partner resources officer. Helm’s CPO job is essentially the same but the title was expanded to reflect the importance of the position, Riley said. As CPO, Helm will direct staffing, learning and development, compensation and benefits, and organizational development for the company’s workforce, including 174,000 U.S. workers. …

As general counsel, she oversaw the Starbucks’ legal and corporate affairs departments and served on its executive leadership team. Over the years, she became well-known inside the company for creating a global inclusion council and sponsoring networking groups for women, LGBTQ employees and employees interested in inclusion and accessibility.

In a message to employees announcing Helm’s promotion, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson praised her as “a leader who listens,” adding that “she comes to her new role with deep connections to partners in the field, at the support center, and in our plants.” Helm’s appointment, along with the title change suggesting a revamping of the role, sends a message that the company intends to focus on its “partners” in its ongoing change efforts.

A year ago, Schultz rolled out a series of changes to compensation, stock awards, scheduling, dress codes, and health insurance meant to improve their employee value proposition (though the decision to shift to private health insurance exchanges was criticized at the time for potentially driving up some employees’ health care costs). As Rafter notes, Johnson, who took over the reins from founder and three-time CEO Howard Schultz in April, faces the challenge of boosting the global coffee chain’s earnings and customer service while managing employee morale and staffing levels as it expands its product offerings and continues to implement its mobile ordering service, which has increased store traffic and may be putting more pressure on employees.

Helm’s history of leadership in diversity and inclusion efforts also suggests that this will be a focal point of Starbucks’ talent strategy going forward. In his message, Johnson underscored this background as evidence of Helm’s “profound passion for partner advocacy” and reflection of the company’s “values of compassion and empathy.”

Starbucks has a history of focusing on its employee value proposition and engaging its partners in advocating for it. CEB HR Leadership Council for Midsized Companies members can read our case study on Starbucks’ employee EVP advocates program.