Why Investors Should Care About a CFO Change at Starbucks

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Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ: SBUX) needs all the stability it can get. After the recent leadership change from Howard Schultz to Kevin Johnson as president and CEO of the company, now the Starbucks has announced the retirement of its chief financial officer. Even after shares hit 52-week lows, this change is likely to add some concern while Starbucks is in a new post-growth transition period and as value investors decide whether the stock is “cheap enough” yet.

Scott Maw is retiring as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Starbucks. The good news for shareholders here is that the move is not effective immediately and the timing will allow him to lead through a potential transition period, after having spent seven years with the company. Maw’s retirement date will be effective November 30, 2018, and he has been CFO of Starbucks since February of 2014.

The company already noted that it has initiated a CFO search to help lead the company into next phase of growth. After Maw’s retirement, Starbucks noted in its release that he will continue to support the transition in a senior consultant role through March 2019.

It is not that uncommon for a new CEO to want a new leadership team. Why this matters is that Maw is listed as being only 50 years old in the Reuters profile for Starbucks. Kevin Johnson, was listed as 57 years old and Howard Schultz as being 64 years old.

The press release said:

Maw joined Starbucks as global controller in 2011. Prior to his role as CFO, he served as senior vice president of Corporate Finance where he was responsible for corporate finance, including accounting, tax and treasury.

Many investors want the CFO role to be quite stable inside of America’s top companies. Some investors even hate seeing a CFO of an established company leave. After all, a CFO is likely to know the ins and outs of the finances of a company better than anyone else inside it — even over the CEO and other board members.

Starbucks shares were last seen down 2.6% at $48.65, which is even lower than when it broke 52-week lows above $50 in recent days after its disappointing earnings report.

Starbucks is now valued at only about 20 times expected 2018 earnings per share. That may be the lowest multiple it has seen in years, but that is also after the new path forward is on a much slower expected growth trend than in its past.