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Former Starbucks CEO Meets With Veterans In San Antonio

Sabrina Marshall-Wojtewicz
Bunker Labs
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (wearing a tie) poses with workers at Bunker Labs in Austin. Johnathan Wojtewicz stands to Schultz's right.

Howard Schultz, the former chairman and CEO of Starbucks, met privately with a group of veterans in San Antonio on Thursday to learn more about their needs. The meeting came amidst news reports that he may run for president in 2020.

The coffeehouse billionaire said if he does run for president, it will be as what he calls a "centrist Independent," but no formal decision has been made.

Schultz said he became an admirer and supporter of veterans when he met former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who joined the Starbucks board in 2012 and told him stories of veterans struggling to return to civilian life.

Schultz said he has met frequently with veterans in the past to listen to their stories and do what he can as a private citizen to help them. He was in San Antonio for another one of those meetings.

He said Starbucks hires veterans and has established facilities to help them transition into the workforce.

"Starbucks has hired 20,000 veterans and their spouses," he said. "My family foundation has created 18 transitional training centers."

Schultz said he was shocked when one veteran told him he was better prepared for a war zone than the civilian workplace.

"And he said he had more anxiety about going on a job interview than he would have if he went back to Afghanistan," Schultz said. "When I heard that, I was just stunned."

Former Marine Johnathan Wojtewicz works with Bunker Labs, which helps veterans start up their own businesses.

He said he was first invited to meet with Schultz in 2015 after the Starbucks chief learned about Bunker Labs. Wojtewicz said the two discussed how companies could help veterans enter the civilian workforce.

He said many companies could emulate how Starbucks assists veterans.

"I definitely stay out of politics," he said, "and I am real thankful, though, that we have men and women like him that are open to listening."

Schultz believes the president has a responsibility as commander-in-chief to help veterans make the transition into civilian life. He thinks veterans are not getting enough proper medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"The VA — your audience will be shocked probably to hear this — has a budget of $200 billion, and if you talk to the majority of vets they are not receiving the quality of services that they need," Schultz said.

Shultz said he is considering a presidential run as he listens to people during his travels across the nation, and he may announce his intentions this spring.

His latest book From the Ground Up describes his life growing up in public housing in Brooklyn and his 36 years at Starbucks, where he provided health care and stock ownership even to part-time workers in the late 1980s.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.