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

“After I gave him the aspect eye,” she recounted in a 2018 Spelman School graduation speech, pausing to reenact her expression to the graduates of the historically Black school for girls in Atlanta, “I ascended to the podium as the keynote for the working day, and I enjoyed the seem on his facial area when my bio was browse,” she claimed. “When you are a Black girl, you get mistaken a great deal. You get mistaken as anyone who could basically not have that top rated career.”

Brewer is not very likely 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 large challenge of rolling out coronavirus vaccines to finish a pandemic that has disproportionately struck Black Us citizens.

The appointment will make Brewer, who has had the chief working job at Starbucks, the only Black feminine CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

It’s a singular distinction each gorgeous for the calendar year 2021 and yet all also common in company America, where it has been more than four years due to the fact a Black lady held a Fortune 500 CEO task and where by there are at this time just four Black male CEOs.

Brewer’s résumé — which has incorporated best employment at Starbucks, Walmart and Kimberly-Clark, and director seats on powerhouse boards like Lockheed Martin and Amazon — designed many see her rise to the corner place of work as a query of when, not if. (Brewer is stepping off the Amazon board to be part of Walgreens Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Known as an approachable, down-to-earth operator with a heritage of positions overseeing significant enterprise models, she has been a perennial presence on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women of all ages lists and was viewed as a potential successor to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson.

Still her appointment arrives at a time when American small business has been grappling with its job on racial fairness, shelling out the final yr promising to diversify its ranks amid the Black Life Matter movement. That will make Brewer, who chairs the Spelman College or university board of trustees and helped Starbucks navigate a higher-profile racial-bias incident in Philadelphia in 2018, uniquely positioned amongst CEOs to communicate credibly about her ordeals as a Black girl.

“Roz’s appointment is not only a solid organization determination it is a substantial chance for the Black community overall,” explained Crystal Ashby, interim president of the Executive Leadership Council, a membership group of Black executives. “Having a Black girl sitting down in the seat who is cognizant of the disparities — for her to be in a posture to make conclusions, to impact peers, to be engaged in conversations and dialogues — is quite promising.”

Brewer, 58, a Detroit native who was the youngest of five little ones and whose mothers and fathers labored for Standard Motors, has spoken overtly about how the fatalities of unarmed Black males George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery have manufactured her “nervous and scared” for all the younger Black men in her existence.

“This is a Black lady, a Detroiter, a Spelman grad and a mega corporation man or woman who’s accurate to herself,” reported Michael Hyter, the main diversity officer of the executive lookup business Korn Ferry. “I believe there will be a respectable viewpoint from her that is well balanced close to the demands of men and women much less lucky.”

Brewer has shared stories in an job interview with the Stanford Graduate University of Business about telling colleagues the genuine purpose she experienced to leave early from do the job: Her teenage daughter, a swimmer, experienced to invest several hours obtaining her hair braided before acquiring in the pool.

And she has recalled in stark terms the firestorm that erupted in 2015 on social media — Brewer has claimed she received demise threats immediately after she talked about demanding diversity on groups and suppliers in a CNN interview. “It was a unpleasant, unpleasant reminder that each individual day, persons of colour deal with systemic racism so blatant, so emboldened and yet so normalized,” Brewer explained in her Spelman graduation speech.

Geri Thomas, a retired range chief of Financial institution of America who has labored with Brewer on packages at Spelman — she also attended a fundraiser at Brewer’s Atlanta residence in 2018 for fellow Spelman grad Stacey Abrams when she ran for Georgia governor — said Brewer was deeply invested in mentoring younger Black experts, to the stage that Brewer would really encourage them to go away a company she labored for if the young ladies weren’t becoming valued.

“There’s just so considerably you ought to consider — at some issue you need to make the selection which is in your greatest interest,” Thomas claimed.

She faces a major problem at Walgreens: Analysts say the pharmacy retailer has underperformed all through the pandemic, battling with reduce retailer website traffic as customers consolidated shopping excursions and bought far more very low-margin client products. Amazon is muscling into prescription refills, and Walgreens’ greatest rival, CVS, has turned itself into an built-in well being-treatment enterprise just after getting pharmacy positive aspects manager Caremark and the insurance company Aetna.

“From our perspective, the greatest obstacle for Walgreens is seriously to determine its place in the competitive overall health-treatment planet,” mentioned Mickey Chadha, an analyst at Moody’s, who stated the investor reaction to Brewer’s appointment was mostly good.

(Walgreens initially took a stake in Alliance Boots, a multinational pharmacy organization, in 2012, and finished the merger in 2014. The organization declined to make Brewer, who will not start the work right up until March 15, readily available for an job interview Starbucks also declined to make Brewer out there.)

Meanwhile, the rollout of the vaccine presents an possibility — analysts say it could direct to better foot visitors and sales when shoppers coming in for a vaccine continue to be and decide on up other merchandise. But it will also be a substantial logistical challenge that requires navigating a maze of community govt interactions, handling an army of staff on the pandemic’s front strains and earning the have confidence in of shoppers with a easy vaccine rollout that is now mired in chaos and doubt.

Individuals who’ve worked with Brewer say she’s up for the endeavor. “She’s anyone who provides final results, a person who can develop a team and another person who can lay out a eyesight of where they feel they should to go future,” explained Thomas J. Falk, the former CEO of Kimberly-Clark, the place Brewer begun as a chemist and labored for 22 yrs. When they had been both associates of the Lockheed Martin board, Falk claimed, they would typically walk Sam’s Club retailers jointly in Dallas. “Just to see how men and women in the retail outlet interacted with her — it didn’t make any difference if you were somebody operating create, she has a way that resonates with people.”

After joining Walmart in 2006, Brewer became the first woman and 1st Black executive to guide a main unit at the retail behemoth when she was named chief executive of its Sam’s Club division in 2012. She grew the warehouse unit’s merchants but experienced to contend with bigger and extra upscale rival Costco. Following five yrs, she still left Sam’s Club, wherever she has claimed she experienced to battle for assets with the corporate mum or dad. “I explained I actually want to just freely run a enterprise unencumbered by having to produce my very best and brightest above to the other device,” she stated in the course of a 2019 Economic Club of Chicago job interview.

Shortly immediately after signing up for the board of Starbucks in 2017, she was asked to direct functions at the espresso large. Within months, she uncovered herself controlling the fallout just after the arrest of two Black guys ready at one of the espresso giant’s Philadelphia cafes.

“As a Black lady, as a mother of a 23-year-aged Black male myself, a female from Detroit who worries racism every single working day simply because she’s never experienced a preference, and as a human remaining, it infuriates me to see functions of loathe, acts of entitlement, acts of privilege repeating more than and about and more than and over and in excess of all over again in this country” she stated of the Philadelphia incident in her 2018 Spelman speech.

Brewer picked up on the viral story early on social media, and by means of message from her son, inquiring what she was going to do about it. Ahead of extended, she was flying to Philadelphia to meet with other executives to tackle the disaster Starbucks was in the end applauded for shutting all its suppliers for anti-bias education. “Everyone who labored there is aware it was her and her relational equity that helped the company navigate through that,” stated Hyter.

Many others who know Brewer say she could deliver that very same consciousness to the Walgreens work. Kenzie Biggins, who interned with Brewer at Walmart and now runs a virtual government assistant business, Worxbee, said possessing a Black girl at the helm of just one of the key companies distributing the vaccine could reassure Black shoppers who may perhaps be cautious about getting it.

“Roz has knowledgeable these items as a Black female,” explained Biggins. “It’ll be critical to how the vaccine rollout is likely, to make positive there is a voice in the area imagining about entry for all people.”