Just when you thought Black women couldn’t take their career successes to newer heights, Rosalind Brewer was recently named CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., the global drug store giant. This move makes her the only Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. If that’s not #BlackGirlMagic, we don’t know what is!
Brewer succeeds Stefano Pessina, who served as CEO for six years following the merger between Walgreens and Alliance Boots in 2014. Pessina will transition to executive chairman of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s board. Brewer, who resumes the role on March 15, will be charged with navigating the company through financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Walgreens takes a leading role in administering the vaccine.
“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,” Pessina said.
Brewer’s promotion to the top job at Walgreens comes during a period of increased awareness and efforts among US corporations to increase diversity and inclusion—including on boards and at senior leadership levels—following nationwide protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd last year. Brewer joins a small group: there have been only 18 Black chief executives of Fortune 500 companies since 1999, according to Fortune. Ursula Burns was the first Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company when she became the CEO of Xerox in 2009. Mary Winston was the second when she became interim CEO of Bed Bath and Beyond in 2019, but was only in the position for six months.
Walgreens cited Ms. Brewer’s “relentless focus on the customer, talent development and expertise in digital transformation” in its announcement of her hire.
Brewer has never been shy in speaking her mind on her commitment to increasing diversity, including her personal experiences in corporate America and with her Sam’s Club suppliers. “Every now and then you have to nudge your partners,” she said during an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow in 2015. “You have to speak up and speak out. And I try to use my platform for that. I try to set an example.”
A seasoned executive and Spelman graduate launched her career as a scientist, working with Kimberly-Clark Corp. for 22 years. Following then, Brewer blazed trails at Sam’s Club (owned by Walmart), where she was the first woman and the first African American to lead a division.
“When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot,” she said during a 2018 speech at her alma mater. “You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you’re mistaken for kitchen help. Sometimes people assume you’re in the wrong place, and all I can think in the back of my head is, ‘No, you’re in the wrong place.’”