NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The most underappreciated CEO in America today is Starbucks ( SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz.Starbucks is ubiquitous in the U.S. today -- especially in New York where you can find a store on nearly every street corner. Yet its success still seems to be understated.
What has always impressed me most about Schultz, though, is his interest in new technology and how that can help the chain's growth. The decision was made in July 2010 to make WiFi free in all Starbucks stores. Go into any store now and see how many hipsters are slumped over their MacBooks cruising the Web. It's been a bonanza that fits perfectly with the chain. Other restaurants have copied this feature but to much less effect. Starbucks also recently announced that as of December it had processed 26 million mobile payments since the start of 2011. Of these, 23% occurred within the last nine weeks of the year. There is no retailer doing more mobile payments today. This form of payment is also being tied to Starbucks' loyalty program, telling the company much more about its customers' preferences. But many forget that Schultz has always been interested in new technology. He co-founded venture capital firm Maveron in 1998 with Dan Levitan. They have invested in eBay ( EBAY), Groupon ( GRPN), Pinkberry, Shutterfly ( SFLY), Good Technology and The Motley Fool. Today, Schultz serves on the boards of Groupon and Pinkberry, helping to keep him plugged in to the latest trends in retail and e-commerce. Schultz has also assembled a knowledgeable and diverse board of directors with a lot of strong industry experience. 10 Consumer Stocks for the Stay-at-Home Investor In December, he appointed 30-year-old Clara Shih, who runs an enterprise software company and formerly worked at salesforce.com ( CRM) and Google ( GOOG). I am not certain, but I imagine this is the youngest woman on any semi-large corporate board in America today. Looking ahead, Starbucks still has extensive growth ahead of it internationally, particularly in China. It's going to be fun to watch. Yet, I'm still amazed that we hear little praise showered on Schultz for what he's done. He rightly deserves to be recognized as a future business Hall of Famer playing right in front of us every night. At the time of publication, Jackson had no positions in stocks mentioned.