Howard Schultz, the CEO and chairman of Starbucks, grew up in a federally subsidized housing project in Brooklyn, surrounded by a diverse community - and it shaped his worldview, he told CNN Money.

"My life experience was different, growing up in this melting pot in Canarsie, in Brooklyn," says Schultz. "We were all trying to climb the ladder of the American dream, every family, the struggle everyone had at the time, was the same."

Schultz says the struggle was that everyone wanted to rise up in society and build a better life. "I remember I wanted to get out of Brooklyn. There were things that were not available to us," says Schultz.

Schultz, who says he is stepping down as CEO in April 2017, received an athletic scholarship to play football at Northern Michigan University.

In 1983, he took a trip to Italy that "changed my life," Schultz tells CNN Money.

"Being in Milan, Rome, and Verona, walking around those places and seeing coffee bars everywhere and walking in, [I had] this epiphany about the sense of community and coffee as the conduit," says Schultz. "I was thinking, 'God, there's an opportunity to do this in America.'"

Schultz says that he credits his ability to climb the socio-economic ladder and build a business empire, which has locations on ever continent in the world, to his country.

"The American Dream, the entrepreneurial opportunities, that is what gave me the opportunity," says Schultz.