Walgreens Boots Alliance’s new CEO, Roz Brewer, will be the only Black feminine Fortune 500 CEO

George T. Taft

“After I gave him the facet eye,” she recounted in a 2018 Spelman University graduation speech, pausing to reenact her expression to the graduates of the traditionally Black school for ladies in Atlanta, “I ascended to the podium as the keynote for the day, and I savored the glimpse on his confront when my bio was read through,” she explained. “When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot. You get mistaken as somebody who could in fact not have that major occupation.”

Brewer is not probable to be mistaken now. On Tuesday, Walgreens Boots Alliance named Brewer to lead a retail pharmacy chain that has fallen driving rival CVS and now faces the massive problem of rolling out coronavirus vaccines to finish a pandemic that has disproportionately struck Black Us citizens.

The appointment will make Brewer, who has experienced the main functioning job at Starbucks, the only Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation.

It’s a singular difference both equally beautiful for the yr 2021 and however all way too acquainted in corporate The usa, where it has been extra than 4 many years considering the fact that a Black girl held a Fortune 500 CEO career and where there are at the moment just four Black male CEOs.

Brewer’s résumé — which has incorporated top rated jobs at Starbucks, Walmart and Kimberly-Clark, and director seats on powerhouse boards like Lockheed Martin and Amazon — produced a lot of see her increase to the corner workplace as a dilemma of when, not if. (Brewer is stepping off the Amazon board to be a part of Walgreens Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Write-up.) Recognised as an approachable, down-to-earth operator with a background of careers overseeing massive enterprise units, she has been a perennial existence on Fortune’s Most Impressive Gals lists and was considered as a prospective successor to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.

Yet her appointment arrives at a time when American business enterprise has been grappling with its function on racial equity, expending the very last 12 months promising to diversify its ranks amid the Black Life Issue motion. That tends to make Brewer, who chairs the Spelman Faculty board of trustees and served Starbucks navigate a high-profile racial-bias incident in Philadelphia in 2018, uniquely positioned between CEOs to talk credibly about her ordeals as a Black female.

“Roz’s appointment is not only a solid business choice it is a huge prospect for the Black neighborhood total,” claimed Crystal Ashby, interim president of the Executive Management Council, a membership team of Black executives. “Having a Black woman sitting down in the seat who is cognizant of the disparities — for her to be in a situation to make selections, to influence friends, to be engaged in conversations and dialogues — is quite promising.”

Brewer, 58, a Detroit native who was the youngest of five young children and whose mom and dad labored for Common Motors, has spoken overtly about how the deaths of unarmed Black guys George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have built her “nervous and scared” for all the young Black males in her daily life.

“This is a Black female, a Detroiter, a Spelman grad and a mega organization person who’s true to herself,” mentioned Michael Hyter, the chief variety officer of the government look for firm Korn Ferry. “I consider there will be a reputable standpoint from her that is balanced all over the requires of individuals significantly less fortuitous.”

Brewer has shared tales in an job interview with the Stanford Graduate University of Company about telling colleagues the genuine explanation she had to leave early from function: Her teenage daughter, a swimmer, had to invest hrs getting her hair braided before receiving in the pool.

And she has recalled in stark terms the firestorm that erupted in 2015 on social media — Brewer has explained she gained dying threats soon after she talked about demanding range on teams and suppliers in a CNN interview. “It was a horrible, unpleasant reminder that each working day, people of color face systemic racism so blatant, so emboldened and nevertheless so normalized,” Brewer said in her Spelman commencement speech.

Geri Thomas, a retired range main of Financial institution of The usa who has worked with Brewer on programs at Spelman — she also attended a fundraiser at Brewer’s Atlanta property in 2018 for fellow Spelman grad Stacey Abrams when she ran for Ga governor — said Brewer was deeply invested in mentoring young Black experts, to the point that Brewer would motivate them to depart a organization she worked for if the younger women weren’t getting valued.

“There’s just so substantially you really should take — at some issue you will need to make the choice which is in your ideal interest,” Thomas mentioned.

She faces a main problem at Walgreens: Analysts say the pharmacy retailer has underperformed during the pandemic, struggling with decreased retailer targeted traffic as consumers consolidated buying journeys and acquired much more low-margin consumer goods. Amazon is muscling into prescription refills, and Walgreens’ largest rival, CVS, has turned alone into an built-in health-treatment corporation soon after getting pharmacy advantages supervisor Caremark and the insurance provider Aetna.

“From our standpoint, the most significant obstacle for Walgreens is truly to determine its location in the competitive well being-care entire world,” claimed Mickey Chadha, an analyst at Moody’s, who explained the investor response to Brewer’s appointment was largely beneficial.

(Walgreens 1st took a stake in Alliance Boots, a multinational pharmacy company, in 2012, and accomplished the merger in 2014. The enterprise declined to make Brewer, who will not start the job till March 15, available for an interview Starbucks also declined to make Brewer out there.)

In the meantime, the rollout of the vaccine presents an chance — analysts say it could lead to increased foot targeted visitors and gross s
ales when buyers coming in for a vaccine remain and decide on up other products. But it will also be a enormous logistical problem that entails navigating a maze of local governing administration interactions, managing an military of staff on the pandemic’s entrance strains and earning the trust of customers with a clean vaccine rollout that is now mired in chaos and question.

Those people who’ve worked with Brewer say she’s up for the undertaking. “She’s a person who provides final results, somebody who can make a staff and someone who can lay out a vision of where by they think they should to go future,” explained Thomas J. Falk, the former CEO of Kimberly-Clark, where Brewer begun as a chemist and labored for 22 several years. When they ended up equally members of the Lockheed Martin board, Falk reported, they would frequently walk Sam’s Club stores alongside one another in Dallas. “Just to see how individuals in the keep interacted with her — it did not issue if you were being an individual running generate, she has a way that resonates with people.”

Right after joining Walmart in 2006, Brewer grew to become the initially female and initially Black govt to lead a big device at the retail behemoth when she was named chief government of its Sam’s Club division in 2012. She grew the warehouse unit’s retailers but experienced to compete with larger sized and much more upscale rival Costco. Just after 5 years, she still left Sam’s Club, wherever she has said she had to combat for sources with the company mother or father. “I explained I actually want to just freely run a small business unencumbered by getting to provide my very best and brightest in excess of to the other unit,” she said all through a 2019 Economic Club of Chicago job interview.

Soon after becoming a member of the board of Starbucks in 2017, she was asked to direct operations at the coffee huge. Inside of months, she observed herself running the fallout just after the arrest of two Black guys waiting around at one particular of the espresso giant’s Philadelphia cafes.

“As a Black female, as a mom of a 23-yr-previous Black male myself, a female from Detroit who worries racism every day mainly because she’s hardly ever had a choice, and as a human becoming, it infuriates me to see functions of despise, acts of entitlement, acts of privilege repeating over and above and over and over and over again in this country” she reported of the Philadelphia incident in her 2018 Spelman speech.

Brewer picked up on the viral tale early on social media, and as a result of concept from her son, inquiring what she was heading to do about it. Before long, she was flying to Philadelphia to satisfy with other executives to cope with the disaster Starbucks was finally applauded for shutting all its merchants for anti-bias training. “Everyone who labored there appreciates it was her and her relational fairness that helped the business navigate as a result of that,” explained Hyter.

Many others who know Brewer say she could provide that identical consciousness to the Walgreens task. Kenzie Biggins, who interned with Brewer at Walmart and now runs a digital executive assistant agency, Worxbee, reported possessing a Black female at the helm of one particular of the major companies distributing the vaccine could reassure Black individuals who may be cautious about using it.

“Roz has expert these items as a Black lady,” said Biggins. “It’ll be critical to how the vaccine rollout is likely, to make positive there is a voice in the space wondering about accessibility for absolutely everyone.”

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