Rosalind “Roz” Brewer assumed the role of Walgreen’s CEO on Monday, March 15, officially becoming the only Black woman to currently lead a Fortune 500 company — and just the third ever to have achieved the historic career milestone.
As we reported previously, Brewer is taking the helm at a challenging time for the DiversityInc Noteworthy company, amidst COVID-19 restrictions and booming demand for vaccinations, which have continued to push pharmacies across the country even further into the frontlines in the battle against the pandemic.
It’s also a momentous time for Black corporate leaders. Chauncey Alcorn of CNN Business reported that as of today, “there are only four total African Americans actively serving as Fortune 500 CEOs, including Brewer.” Alcorn added that “Kenneth Frazier has served as head of Merck since 2011. There’s also Lowe’s chief executive Marvin Ellison and TIAA-CREF [No. 9 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020] CEO Roger Ferguson Jr. who is stepping down. JPMorgan Chase executive Thasunda Brown Duckett, a Black woman, is set to replace Ferguson on May 1.”
Still, Brewer seems ready for the challenge. In a statement released at the time of her appointment, she said “The healthcare industry is constantly evolving, and I am excited to work alongside the entire [Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)] team as we deliver further innovation and positively impact the lives of millions of people around the world every day. This is especially true today as the company plays a crucial role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. I step into this role with great optimism for the future of WBA, a shared responsibility to serve our customers, patients and communities, and a commitment to drive long-term sustainable value for shareholders.”
Outgoing Walgreens CEO Stefano Pessina agreed that Brewer was the right person to head the company going forward.
“The Board conducted an extensive search to identify an exceptional leader who will build on WBA’s track record of success and take advantage of the many growth opportunities in many markets across the company. We are excited to have found that person in Roz,” he said. “She is a distinguished and experienced executive who has led organizations globally through periods of changing consumer behavior by applying innovation that elevates customer experiences — ultimately driving significant and sustainable growth and value creation. Her relentless focus on the customer, talent development, operational rigor and strong expertise in digital and technological transformation are exactly what WBA needs as the company enters its next chapter.”
In her prior role at Starbucks, Brewer led company operations across the U.S., Canada and Latin America. She also headed global functions of the supply chain, product innovation and store development. Prior to her position at Starbucks in 2017, she served as President and CEO of Sam’s Club, the members-only warehouse channel of Walmart (No. 32 in 2020). Brewer began her 22-year career at Kimberly-Clark Corp., starting as a chemist at the company before rising to the role of president of its global non-wovens unit.
As Brewer steps into her new role, many — including Michael C. Hyter, president and CEO of the non-profit Executive Leadership Council — are excited to see what she can accomplish and what additional change her position can help to usher in.
In an interview with Alcorn, Hyter said “Diversity at the top drives diversity throughout the corporation. There is a tendency among CEOs to groom senior executives who look like themselves, requiring intentional efforts to seed succession plans with more diverse candidates with proven track records.”
In addition to helping to increase diversity and inclusion at Walgreens, Hyter believes Brewer’s appointment can carry over and help spread that idea to other businesses focusing on healthcare, as well as Fortune 500 companies as a whole.