What you must know about Rosalind Brewer, the only Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company

Abu Mubarik Jan 29, 2021 at 12:00pm

January 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Success Story

Abu Mubarik

Abu Mubarik

January 29, 2021 at 12:00 pm | Success Story

Rosalind "Roz" Brewer speaks at an annual shareholders meeting in Seattle on March 20, 2019. Photo credit: ason Redmond / AFP via Getty Images file

Walgreens has named Rosalind “Roz” Brewer as its new CEO, making her the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company. Prior to her appointment, Brewer served as the chief operating officer at Starbucks.

Brewer takes over from Stefano Pessina, who will transition to executive chairman of Walgreens. At Starbucks, Brewer is credited with engineering the growth of the company and pushing for more diversity.

Brewer has a career spanning over  25 years in multiple fields. Before joining Starbucks, the 59-year-old served as president and CEO of Sam’s Club, the eighth largest U.S. retailer with sales of $57 billion for the fiscal year 2016. The appointment made Brewer the first African American to lead a Walmart division.

Brewer also worked with Kimberly-Clark Corp. for 22 years, beginning as a scientist and advancing to become vice president of the Global Nonwovens Sector in 2004. In 2017, she was nominated for the Starbucks Board of Directors and was named as COO in September of that year, making her the second highest-ranked executive at Starbucks.

Brewer grew up in Detroit, attended Cass Technical High School and Spelman College, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She is also a graduate of the Director’s College at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business/Stanford Law School, and she also attended an advanced management program at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

In February 2019, Amazon named Brewer to their board. Also, she has served as Chair of the Board of Trustees for Spelman College since 2011 after being elected in 2006. She was a director of Molson Coors Brewing Company from 2006 to 2011 and is on the Board of Directors for Lockheed Martin, Board of Trustees for The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, and Board of Councilors for the Carter Presidential Center

Brewer has been very vocal about racism and how it has affected her in corporate America. “When you’re a Black woman, you get mistaken a lot,” she said in a 2018 graduation speech at Spelman College, her alma mater and HBCU on whose board she sits. “You get mistaken as someone who could actually not have that top job. Sometimes you’re mistaken for kitchen help.”

She continued: “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.’”

There have only been a handful of Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. Ursula Burns was the first Black woman to run a Fortune 500 company when she became CEO of Xerox in 2009 but lost that role in 2016 when Xerox split into two companies.

Forbes recently named Brewer as the 48th most powerful woman in the world. In 2018, Fortune also ranked her #33 on its list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.

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