Walgreens taps Starbucks COO Roz Brewer as its next CEO, sources say

Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Rosalind Brewer will replace Stefano Pessina as CEO of Walgreens, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Starbucks announced Brewer’s departure earlier Tuesday, saying she was leaving at the end of February for a CEO position at an undisclosed publicly traded company.

Officials from Walgreens weren’t immediately available to comment on the Journal’s report, which cited people familiar with the matter.

Pessina announced his plans to step down as CEO in July. He is one of the drugstore chain’s largest individual investors. The paper reported he plans to continue to serve on the board as executive chairman.

If named CEO of Walgreens, Brewer would become the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company.

She joined Starbucks’ board in 2017 and became its chief operating officer later that year after serving as CEO of Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart. She was the first Black woman to be COO of Starbucks and to head a division at the big-box retailer. Prior to her time at Walmart, she worked for consumer packaged goods giant Kimberly-Clark.

In her current role, Brewer deals with a wide range of responsibilities, from technology initiatives to the creation of new coffee drinks. She was widely expected to be the successor to current CEO Kevin Johnson. After she leaves, those responsibilities will be split up among CMO Brady Brewer and Rossann Williams, who serves as president of company-operated locations in the U.S. and Canada.

At Walgreens, Brewer would face numerous challenges as the company looks to turn around its business and create new revenue streams. The drugstore chain struggled in the early months of the pandemic as foot traffic dropped, particularly at its Boots stores in the United Kingdom. The company reported earlier this month that sales were picking up, but reiterated its outlook for low single-digit earnings growth.

The drugstore chain has been cutting costs in some areas and investing in others. It’s closed hundreds of Walgreens and Boots stores and last year and cut the size of its workforce.

Walgreens’ bigger rival, CVS Health, acquired health insurer Aetna and was quicker to expand in health care services. CVS opened Minute Clinics and Walgreens has been playing catch up.

Brewer also sits on the board of Amazon and is chairwoman of Spelman College’s board of trustees. Previously, she was a director at Lockheed Martin and Molson Coors Beverage.

Brewer’s departure comes as investors, regulators and activists push for more diversity in Corporate America. Nasdaq has proposed changes that would push for greater racial and gender diversity on the boards of publicly traded companies listed on its exchange. 

The company has also recently announced the retirement of its CFO Pat Grismer. He will be replaced by Rachel Ruggeri, who serves as senior vice president of finance for the Americas division, starting Feb. 1.

Shares of Starbucks fell 1.6% in extended trading on Tuesday after the chain reported its fiscal first-quarter results. It beat analyst estimates for its earnings, but its sales recovery in the U.S. faltered as Covid-19 cases increased during the quarter.

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