Meet the female CEOs driving growth for Starbucks China

Starbucks China
COO Molly Liu to join Belinda Wong as co-CEO Starbucks China, as the company builds on its skyrocketing growth with plans to open 2,500 stores by 2025

Starbucks is betting big on China.

Following a recent rebound in sales across the country, the US-headquartered coffee giant has set out ambitious growth goals for its Chinese business.

While China has been a key growth driver for Starbucks since its launch there in 1999, the business has been impacted by the country’s strict Covid restrictions with sales taking a huge hit last year.

But business is back with recent sales spiking – and major plans for growth are back on the ‘coffee’ table.

In the three months ending July 2, sales at Chinese locations spiked 46% YoY, the company announced, with the quarter revenue in China growing 51% YoY.

That’s compared to the much-lower sales growth of 7% in the US and a global average of 10%.

Plans to open 2,500 stores by 2025

Starbucks currently operates more than 6,500 stores in over 250 cities – but has plans to grow this by nearly a third in the next few years.

The aim? To operate 9,000 stores across 300 cities in China by 2025 – and with it, create 10,000 additional jobs annually.

That means a new store will open every nine hours.

According to global CEO Laxman Narasimhan, Starbucks China is still in its early days and has so much room to grow.

As the world’s second-largest economy and one of the largest consumer markets, “there is so much more opportunity ahead in underpenetrated areas within this market”, says Laxman.

While coffee consumption is quite low in tea-drinking China with the average person taking around 12 cups per year (compared to 200 in Japan and 380 in the US), the country’s population of 1.4 billion offers a massive opportunity.

Not just that, but Starbucks has past form in converting Chinese consumers to coffee drinking with its vertical integration and “locally relevant innovation”, according to Laxman.

Starbucks China is looking to grow to 9000 stores by 2025

Starbucks China – unprecedented growth

China has achieved unprecedented growth and transformation in China and especially in the last decade, earning a reputation as one of the most successful multinational brands in the market.

From fewer than 500 stores, China has grown to become one of the two leading markets for Starbucks and a vital engine fuelling its global growth and performance.

The coffee chain has been at the forefront of retail innovation in China. Its omni-channel approach fuelled mobile ordering to make up almost half of company sales just four years after launch and Starbucks Rewards in China is one of the most successful loyalty programmes in Starbucks history, with membership growing exponentially in recent years to nearly 100 million, including close to 20 million 90-day active members.

Along with plans to open 2,500 new stores by 2025, and Greener Stores, the company is also investing US$220 million from 2023-2025 in a China Digital and Technology Innovation Center to further accelerate digital transformation.

Driving this accelerated business growth in China is Belinda Wong, who has been a Starbucks partner for 24 years and led China’s unprecedented growth since 2011.

Belinda Wong has been driving growth since 2011

Belinda Wong and Molly Miu to drive next decade growth

Regularly appearing on lists of most powerful businesswomen by Forbes and Fortune, both in China and internationally, Belinda’s strategic vision and entrepreneurial drive has not only resulted in growth and innovation, but also in the scaling of the company’s culture and values.

She has pioneered People Positive innovations and cultivated a ‘family’ culture, with ground-breaking programmes including partner family forums and the provision of critical illness insurance – not just for partners, but also their parents.

She also spearheaded the establishment of the Beijing Starbucks Foundation in China 2020, to support communities, and advanced Starbucks Planet Positive agenda in China – launching in 2012 a Farmer Support Center that offers free agronomy expertise and resources to help coffee farmers adopt more sustainable practices while improving crop yield.

But Belinda hasn’t done this alone. Working alongside Belinda and helping to drive success over the last decade is COO Molly Liu.

Molly, who has been instrumental in driving industry-leading innovation for the China business, has now been promoted to co-CEO and will work directly alongside Belinda to “lead Starbucks through our next chapter, while living our Mission and Values”, Laxman recently announced.

COO Molly Liu will become co-CEO on October 2

Described by Laxman as a “strong leader who has been instrumental in elevating the Starbucks Experience for our Chinese customers”, Molly has held numerous leadership roles since joining the company in 2012.

As head of the Digital Ventures organisation, she set the foundation for the company’s digital flywheel in the market, most notably the launch of Starbucks Delivers and Starbucks Now digital ordering services, which grew to contribute 48% of China sales in Q3 FY 23.

Not just that, but she turned the rewards programme into a leading loyalty programme with more than 20 million active members, and most recently as COO since 2021 oversaw the company’s accelerated expansion to more store locations.


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