Starbucks names Mellody Hobson board chair — the first Black woman in the role

Starbucks has named Mellody Hobson the new chair of its board of directors, the first Black woman in that role at the company.

Hobson, who is co-CEO of the asset management firm Ariel Investments, will step into the position in March. She has been a Starbucks director since 2005 and will replace Myron E. Ullman, III, who has served as chair since 2018.

The announcement comes as major companies face mounting criticism for a lack of diversity on their corporate boards, and are being pushed to make changes. Only 16.8% of large-cap company boards have racially or ethnically diverse directors, up from 13.6% in 2015, according to a September report from ISS ESG, the responsible-investment arm of Institutional Shareholder Services.

Nasdaq recently proposed a rule that would require some companies to have at least two so-called diverse directors, including one woman and one member of an “underrepresented” minority group, which would include Black, Latino or LGBTQ+ directors. And California said in September that starting next year, public companies with headquarters in the state will be legally required to have at least one board member from an underrepresented community by the end of 2021 and at least two or three, depending on the board’s size, by the end of 2022.

Hobson has herself called for companies to increase diversity among its leaders. During a June appearance on “CBS This Morning,” she said corporate boards should push companies on the issue.

“Companies right now have to get their houses in order,” she said. “The board of directors have to hold the leaders of these organizations accountable around these issues of diversity.”

Hobson is also a director of JPMorgan Chase. Previously, she was the chair of the board of DreamWorks Animation, and was a director of Estée Lauder.

In a statement Wednesday, Hobson said she is “thrilled and honored to take on the role of chair,” at Starbucks, adding that “over nearly two decades, I have seen the company continue to elevate and transform its business.”

In October, Starbucks unveiled plans to increase diversity within its ranks by tying executive pay to inclusion initiatives starting next year. The company did not specify exactly how executive pay will be affected, but it set goals to raise the number of BIPOC, or Black, Indigenous and People of Color, employees across the board.

Starbucks started ramping up its diversity efforts a few years ago, soon after the arrest of two black men who were waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks caused an uproar. CEO Kevin Johnson apologized for the incident and closed thousands of locations across the country for anti-bias training. In 2019, the company commissioned an assessment on its commitment to civil rights, diversity and inclusion.