New Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer will be the only Black woman chief executive in Fortune 500

January 27, 2021, 3:34 AM UTC

After Rosalind ‘Roz’ Brewer left her role as head of Walmart’s Sam’s Club business in 2017, she was offered the CEO position at a private equity firm—a role that she has said would have been easy.

But Brewer turned it down, instead opting to become the No. 2 at Starbucks as chief operating officer and head of Americas at the $23.5 billion coffee giant. 

It turns out Brewer played her cards right. On March 15, Brewer will become CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance—the nearly $140 billion retailer and pharmacy that ranks No. 19 on the Fortune 500. The stock was up nearly 8% in after-hours trading in a strong show of confidence in Brewer from Wall Street. 

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When Brewer takes the job, she will be one of 40 women running a Fortune 500 company, as well as the only Black woman—and only the third in history. Ursula Burns was the first Black woman to head a Fortune 500 company when she became chief executive of Xerox in 2009; she stepped down in 2016. Mary Winston, who briefly led Bed Bath & Beyond as interim CEO in 2019, was the second. 

Brewer will take over as CEO at a critical time for Walgreens as the pharmacy chain partners with the U.S. federal government to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. On Jan. 22, the company said it had completed 1 million vaccinations across long-term care facilities, but Walgreens and rival CVS have come under criticism for what state health officials say are bureaucratic delays. In mid-January, Walgreen said in a statement that it supports the Biden administration’s plans to accelerate the vaccine rollout. 

Brewer joins Walgreens after a three-year stint on the executive team at Starbucks, where she has been largely credited with cleaning up the company’s stores and instilling a new level of discipline in its operations. That’s a skillset she honed during the decade she spent at Walmart, a tenure that included running Sam’s Club, the company’s warehouse club business. There she focused on pushing the brand into e-commerce and targeting a more affluent shopper, but struggled to catch up to bigger rival Costco

“Roz is a tough cookie,” Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, told Fortune when the magazine profiled Brewer in 2019. Nooyi did business with Brewer when Brewer was at Walmart and serves with her on the Amazon board. (Brewer will resign from the Amazon board on Feb. 16, according to The Wall Street Journal.) “She’s into the details. She’s not a fluffy person,” Nooyi said. “She gets things done.” 

After leaving Walmart, Brewer joined the Starbucks board in early 2017; just months later CEO Kevin Johnson recruited her to join his executive team as well.

Brewer grew up in Detroit, where both of her parents worked for General Motors. Neither graduated from high school, but they insisted that all five of their children go to college. At one point Brewer’s father worked three jobs to put the kids through school. “I just knew I couldn’t fail,” Brewer told Fortune. Brewer attended Spelman College, where today she chairs the board of trustees.

Brewer is known for speaking candidly about her experience being one of the few Black female executives to reach her level in business, and during her time at Starbucks spearheaded some of the company’s diversity initiatives. In 2018 when the company faced accusations of racial bias after a manager called the police on two Black men in one of its Philadelphia stores, Brewer was instrumental in putting on racial bias training for 175,000 of its employees. In October, the company said it would tie executive pay to diversity targets.

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