Starbucks’ new chief can make the coffee brand sing after radical stint at Dettol maker

It was a question that no one could answer. We were with a music industry colleague who had a lucrative business writing jingles for advertisements.

When you think of Dettol, what musical compositions come to mind? How one could write a song to promote a brand of disinfectant was beyond us.

I was reminded of our reaction when it was announced that Laxman Narasimhan is leaving his position as CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturer of Dettol, to assume the same position at Starbucks. He’s swapping the Thames Valley home of not only, Dettol but also Durex condoms, Calgon detergent, Nurofen painkillers and Strepsil throat lozenges, for Seattle and the headquarters of the world’s biggest and determinedly earnest coffee chain.

To say it seems like an unlikely match, packaged goods and coffee shops, is an understatement. At first glance, it is unclear what Narasimhan brings to the position of chief executive officer at Starbucks or how he obtained the position.

Charles Tribbett III, then co-leader of the CEO and board advisory arm of Russell Reynolds Associates and now vice-chairman of the recruiter, is said to have conducted a rigorous search before selecting him. A year ago, the 55-year-old was apparently identified as a likely successor to Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Starbucks.

This year, Johnson retired and Howard Schultz returned for a third term as CEO of Starbucks. Schultz was the person most closely associated with Starbucks’s meteoric success. In his more than four decades as CEO and chairman, he expanded the company from 11 stores in 77 countries to more than 28,000 stores in 77 countries.

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