A year into the pandemic, Roz Brewer saw people wary of vaccinations and Black and brown citizens dying at disproportionate rates.
“It’s hard to sit there and watch that happen when you’ve got a background in retail, execution and operations,” Brewer told members of the Economic Club of Chicago during a virtual Q&A on Feb. 17 moderated by club chair Mary Dillon executive chair of Ulta Beauty. “Part of my career has not only been helping large companies grow but also influencing the community.”
When the opportunity to become CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) presented itself, Brewer evaluated it more through her heart than her head and jumped right in. She wanted to educate the public about the vaccine and make it easily accessible to everyone. At the time, she was COO of Starbucks—the first Black female to fill that role—and prior to that, president and CEO of Sam’s Club. The Michigan native got her start working for Kimberly-Clark as a research scientist. Within five years, she moved to the business side of the company, eventually joining the mergers and acquisitions team that led its transition from paper products to consumer goods.
Before March 15, 2021, her first day on the job at WBA, she toured Walgreens stores and saw customers waiting anxiously to get vaccinated and expressing gratitude and relief to pharmacists afterward. “The focus on vaccines gave us a leg up,” she says. “Our pharmacy began to create new relationships with customers and patients.”
In an effort to further those relationships, WBA is concentrating on the consumerization of healthcare—making it personal and private, so people can care for themselves, Brewer explains. The plan includes Village MD, physicians practices purchased by Walgreens that will operate inside 3,000 of its stores—half of them located in medically underserved communities. Patients will see the same doctor every time, fill their prescriptions onsite and have easy access to their medical records, which will be stored in the Cloud.
With $34 billion in sales, WBA is exceeding first quarter expectations. What’s more, Brewer ranks number six on Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and among the Financial Times 25 Most Influential Women of 2021.
On the way to promoting more joyful lives through better health at WBA, Brewer learned some valuable lessons.
Be a Student of Business
I never took for granted the small jobs handed to me—small jobs provide the best experience to learn.
A learning culture is important
To create an environment where people feel comfortable learning aligns to a growth mindset.
Everyone in the company has to be an innovator
Mix agile teams and different disciplines together to think about the biggest problems they need to solve for the company.
Make sure team members know they are seen and heard
My leadership team is in stores almost every Friday. We’re listening and making changes.
Sleep is the cure of all evils
The ability to put your body at rest and for it to repair itself is important.
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Melanie Kalmar is a freelance journalist specializing in business, healthcare, human interest and real estate. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family.