Kris Engskov, the managing director of Starbucks UK and Ireland, learned a huge amount during his seven years working as the assistant press secretary and personal aide to the former US President Bill Clinton.
On his fellow Arkansas native, Mr Engskov says: “He had a vision for where to take people and how to lead. While Engskov denies it is a turnaround role – citing its growing underlying sales as the time – this theory holds some water, as his appointment coincided with another high-profile executive Michelle Gass becoming president of Europe.
Among the deluge of UK initiatives, 41-year-old Engskov has pushed on with its store refurbishments, has signed up its first franchise partners and has unveiled a partnership to create 200 drive-through and 100 conventional stores over the next five years, creating 5,000 jobs.
But Starbucks UK’s biggest change – arguably the most significant since it landed on these shores in 1998 – came in March, when it broke with its long-standing policy of selling the same beverages globally. For instance, Starbucks this year signalled its intention to exit three stores on London’s Oxford Street, as part of its strategy to concentrate on locations off the main streets of the capital, in search of more upmarket, an cheaper, sites.
On its wider property strategy, Mr Engskov says: “You have got a dated portfolio with very high rents [at Starbucks UK]. Despite this, Starbucks, at least in terms of store numbers, trails significantly behind the market leader Costa Coffee, which has 1,375 in the UK alone.
But after Starbucks UK fell on difficult times before the credit crisis of 2008, following a rapid period of expansion, matching Costa’s store numbers no longer seems on its agenda.
Mr Engskov says: “Of course Costa is a very strong competitor in an incredibly competitive market, but I’d like to think that we were trying to do something different. We know we have to be in the right places, but we also have to be better and different to the opposition.”
One way that Starbucks UK had started to make itself different under Engskov’s predecessor, Darcy Willson-Rymer, was to change the design of its refurbished or new stores to make the local or relevant to the local area, such as stripping back decorations to reveal original brickwork.
Mr Engskov is well-versed in UK culture and has strong views on the native workforce in this country, having been based in Europe since 2005, including his stint as regional director for London between 2005 and 2007.