Orin C. Smith, 1942-2018, Retired President and CEO, Starbucks Corporation


Orin Smith died peacefully in his home on Thursday, March 1st. His wife Janet and family members were by his side.

While Orin and Janet have been residents of Jackson, Wyoming for many years, Orin had deep roots in Washington state. He was born in Ryderwood, Washington on June 26th, 1942 to Curtis and Vernetta Smith. He was raised in Chehalis, Washington and graduated from W.F. West High School in 1960.

Orin attended Centralia Community College, then graduated with a B.A. in Business Administration from the University of Washington in 1965. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1967.

Upon graduating from Harvard, Orin considered a career in academia, but he soon moved on to other career paths. His business career began at what is known today as Deloitte, where he ultimately ran the Northwest Consulting Practice. He then became the Chief Budget Officer for two Governors; Dixie Lee Ray and Booth Gardner, followed by several years as the CFO of two international transportation companies.

Orin was offered an opportunity to join the Starbucks executive team in 1990. He later became President and COO. In 2000 he became President and CEO until he retired in 2005. Under his leadership Starbucks experienced unprecedented expansion. During his years at the helm, Starbucks grew from 45 stores to over 10,000 stores in 33 countries.

While at Starbucks, Orin not only helped the company grow, but he also made it one of the world’s most recognized and celebrated brands. He helped shape and create the Starbucks culture and its ethic of uncompromising commitment to people on the planet.

“Orin Smith was a beloved friend, mentor, and leader whose deep compassion, fierce determination, patient wisdom and personal humility is forever embedded into the culture of Starbucks and imprinted into the hearts of all who knew him and called him family. For those of us fortunate enough to have worked with Orin, I can tell you that the pain of his loss is being felt as strongly as the joy of his presence. Personally, Orin taught me what it means to lead and to live with humanity. His influence will be with me always.” — Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman, Starbucks

Orin received many professional awards during his career. A few that were meaningful to him were:

• UW Foster School of Business “Distinguished Leadership Award" – 2001

• Harvard Business School “Alumni Achievement Award" – 2000 (making him one of only 92 graduates among 50,000 of the time to receive the schools highest honor).

• Institutional Investor “Best CEO” from 2002 – 2004

• Business Week “Best CEO in America” 2004

• CEO Magazine “Best CEO in the Northwest” 2004

• While CEO of Starbucks: Fortune Magazine named Starbucks one of the “10 Most Admired Companies in America” in 2003, 2004, 2005 and one of the "100 Best Places to Work in America from 2000 – 2005

Orin played a significant role in America’s rethinking of the way that employees and customers are viewed and treated. He believed that the pursuit of short-term gains was very limiting in business.

“At the root of our culture at Starbucks is the commitment to people. This resonates in every culture around the world. Our principles and the culture they were built on, in my view and many others, is the reason for our great success,” said Orin in an interview two years ago with UW Foster Business School.

Orin was very involved as a Director of Conservation International which he partnered with in the 1990’s to develop best practices for cultivating coffee and tea in a way that treats farmers fairly and protects the biodiversity of the fragile and fertile growing regions. He joined their board in 2000 and served on the Executive Committee for many years, chaired the Governance Committee, and led the search for their leadership transition. Today the organization works to protect the environment and humanity of 25 countries.

“For decades Orin committed himself to CI by providing wisdom, love and thoughtfulness to our work. Orin was the catalyst for the wonderful partnership CI created with Starbucks. A few weeks ago my wife and I flew to Wyoming to spend time with Janet and Orin. I cannot tell you how much he has meant to us. The harshness of death is its finality. Fortunately, the memories and values and closeness of our friends are just as permanent. Orin is with us forever.” — Peter Seligmann, Chairman of the Board, Conservation International

Orin served on the Board of The Walt Disney Company 2006–2018, and was elected as Independent Lead Director 2012-2018.

“Orin was a class act, the quintessential gentleman, and a truly great friend. I will always miss his wise counsel, but I’ll miss his friendship most of all. Orin lived with great purpose, he acted with impeccable integrity, and he treated everyone with endless kindness. An unabashed Disney fan, he helped lead us through a transformative era of growth, ensuring we’ll continue to entertain the world for generations to come. Orin’s presence was a gift in the lives of everyone who knew him; but, today my thoughts are with his beloved wife, Janet, and their family, who feel his absence most of all.” — Robert Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company

Orin served on the Board of Directors of NIKE, Inc. from 2004 to 2015

“When asked in 2010 who I would pick as chairman if I were to be hit by a bus, my pick was Orin Smith. He is outstanding in every way as a businessman, as a leader, and as a moral man.” — Phil Knight, Chairman Emeritus, Nike

Orin’s philanthropic spirit was enormous. He was active at the University of Washington, contributing and leading several campaigns over the years — including being a member of the UW Board of Regents. Both Starbucks and Nike endowed scholarships at the UW in Orin’s name upon his retirement.

“Orin is simply one of the most thoughtful, collaborative and humble leaders I have ever known. His leadership style and clear-minded reasoning are legendary. His calm demeanor and deep understanding of issues and people make his advice and counsel highly sought after.” — Bill Ayer, Retired Chairman and CEO, Alaska Air Group / Current Chair, UW Board of Regents

Orin was also a contributor to many other charitable organizations in Wyoming and Washington. For example, Orin’s contributions to the Chehalis Foundation for education initiatives and community projects gave him great satisfaction. He truly enjoyed improving the lives of Chehalis kids and felt he was blessed to be able to honor the community where he was raised as a child. In 2008, he assisted the Chehalis community in building a new library named in honor of his mother, Vernetta Smith.

Orin discovered that he felt great joy being part of projects that improved the quality of life for young people in his childhood hometown. The effectiveness, leadership, and accomplishments of the Chehalis Foundation encouraged him. He believed the progress was remarkable and that it was only the beginning. His goal was to help young people, just like those who helped him when he was a young person growing up.

Important Hometown Recognition:

• Centralia College “Distinguished Alumnus”

• The Chronicle “2017 Person of the Year”

• The Chehalis School District named a new school “Orin Smith Intermediate School”

• City of Chehalis Street naming “Orin Smith Commemorative Way”

Whether it is in business or with his volunteer leadership, Orin would share the credit of any success with all who worked with him. He was often referred to as humble and most always referenced any of his success stories with “we” and not “I.”

Countless people are better off because of the generosity and vision of Orin Smith. He was a man who brought such good into this world. He will forever be an example of how to live a truly generous life.

Orin is survived by his wife Janet, and Janet’s two sons; Ryan May, daughter-in-law Jessie, grandchildren Thomas and Shilah May; Brandon May, daughter-in-law Karen, grandchild Addison; brother Michael Smith, nieces Allison Sander and Kimberlee Baker; sister Vicki Ducharme, brother-in-law Richard and their sons David Ducharme and Craig Ducharme; brother Kevin Smith, sister-in-law Karen, nieces Jessica Smith, Mari Smith, and Lauren Smith; and numerous grand-nieces and grand nephews.

Orin passed away from pancreatic cancer. The family would like to acknowledge his amazing medical team; Dr. Daniel Laheru, Johns Hopkins, Dr. John Ward and the entire medical team at St John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming, Dr. Mitchell Karton in Seattle, Washington, Dr. Richard Byrd in Palm Desert, California, and Carrie Davis with Private Health Management.

Orin’s Memorial service for family members will be held in Jackson, Wyoming.

A second service for Washington state friends and family will be held on Sunday April 8th at 2:00 PM located in Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus.

Donations can be made in Orin’s name to the Jackson Community Foundation in Jackson, Wyoming; https://www.cfjacksonhole.org or to his childhood hometown at the Chehalis Foundation; http://chehalisfoundation.org.