Walgreens Poaches Starbucks Executive Rosalind Brewer for CEO

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Walgreens


WBA 2.86%

Boots Alliance Inc. named Starbucks Corp. operating chief

Rosalind Brewer

as its next chief executive, setting her up to be the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company today.

Ms. Brewer will replace

Stefano Pessina,

who said in July that he would step down as CEO once the drugstore company found a new leader. Mr. Pessina, one of Walgreens’ biggest individual investors, will stay on the company’s board and serve as executive chairman.

Shares of Walgreens, which has a market value of around $43 billion, rose 8% after hours after The Wall Street Journal first reported on the move.

Starbucks said Tuesday that Ms. Brewer, its chief operating officer and group president, was leaving both the company and board of Starbucks at the end of February for a new role at another public company. Before joining the coffeehouse chain, Ms. Brewer was CEO of

Walmart Inc.’s

Sam’s Club division for five years.

Bio at a Glance

  • Name: Rosalind Brewer
  • Age: 58
  • Prior Roles: Starbucks chief operating officer since 2017; Walmart 2006-2017, including as chief executive of Sam’s Club from 2012 to 2017; Kimberly-Clark Corp. 1984-2006
  • Board Memberships: Amazon.com, Starbucks, Lockheed Martin (former) and Molson Coors (former)
  • Favorite Drink: Tall Starbucks Blonde Espresso Roast Honey Oatmilk Latte
  • Education: Spelman College, bachelor’s degree in chemistry; Wharton’s Advanced Management Program; Stanford University’s Directors’ College

The 58-year-old executive, who goes by “Roz,” will join Walgreens and its board on March 15. She is also resigning from the board of Amazon.com Inc. on Feb. 16.

The retail veteran joined Starbucks and its board in 2017. She helped shift Starbucks toward a focus on to-go operations during the pandemic and has worked to diversify the company’s leadership. Starbucks last fall said it would tie executive compensation to increasing minority representation in its workforce, and mandated antibias training for company leaders.

In 2019, Ms. Brewer joined the board of Amazon amid pressure on the company to add more diversity to its board. Amazon has been increasingly expanding into the health-care space, becoming more of a competitor to companies such as Walgreens and CVS. In 2018, Amazon bought online pharmacy PillPack for $1 billion.

Mr. Pessina said Ms. Brewer’s retail background, especially in growing Starbucks’ digital presence, makes her well-suited for the top job at Walgreens.

“We needed someone with an experience in retail and an experience in pharmacy and, more importantly, experience in digital,” Mr. Pessina said in an interview. “She’s very thoughtful and very personable, she’s reasonable and she has all the qualities that are important for a chief executive.”

Walgreens, the largest U.S. drugstore chain, has been struggling to turn itself around, an effort complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Pessina, an Italian billionaire, took over five years ago following the merger of Walgreens and European pharmacy chain Alliance Boots.

Stefano Pessina visited a Walgreens in Deerfield, Ill., in March 2019.



Photo:

LUCY HEWETT FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Where rival

CVS Health Corp.

has built itself into a health-care behemoth through acquisitions of pharmacy benefit manager Caremark in 2006 and insurer Aetna Inc., Walgreens shifted away from all-out acquisitions after unsuccessful attempts to buy insurer

Humana Inc.

and pharmacy rival

Rite Aid Corp.

Walgreens recently announced plans to sell much of its wholesale pharmacy business in Europe, narrowing its focus on its U.S. namesake chain and the Boots pharmacy chain in the U.K.

Reduced store traffic amid the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating Walgreens’ retail struggles, and the company’s efforts to transform itself into a provider of health-care services have yet to take hold. The company also is expected to play a central role administering the Covid-19 vaccine to the American public. Along with CVS, Walgreens worked with the federal government to administer doses at the nation’s long-term-care facilities.

In its latest quarter, the pharmacy chain’s profit fell 25% even as overall revenue rose and the company worked to cut costs. Retail pharmacy sales increased 1.6% in the U.S., well below expectations, and executives said prescription volumes were weaker than planned.

Last year, Walgreens was among the worst-performing members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, with its shares falling 29.4%. The index gained 7.3% in 2020.

The first African-American and first woman to lead a Walmart business unit, Ms. Brewer joined the retail giant in 2006 after two decades at

Kimberly-Clark Corp.

, where she started as a chemist. She is a graduate of Spelman College, where she chairs the board of trustees. She previously served on the boards of

Lockheed Martin Corp.

and

Molson Coors Beverage Co.

“Roz has a fabulous combination of traits. She is a scientist by training, she is deeply operational and she has a broad worldview. That combination just makes her a dynamo,” said

Jamie Gorelick,

a fellow Amazon board member who has worked alongside Ms. Brewer for nearly two years.

There are four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500: Kenneth Frazier of pharmaceutical giant

Merck & Co.,

Marvin Ellison

of hardware store chain

Lowe’s Cos.,

Roger Ferguson Jr.

of TIAA, a financial services firm, and René Jones, who runs

M&T Bank Corp.

in New York.

The number of women running Fortune 500 companies hit an all-time high last year at 37 and more have since been appointed.

Write to Dana Mattioli at [email protected] and Cara Lombardo at [email protected]

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