Print Friendly and PDF

Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Brewer: ‘Anything That Happens in Those Stores is My Responsibility’

By Crain’s Content Studio 

Key Takeaways

  • “Diversity of thought” is an imperative for hiring today. “Lay race and gender diversity on top of that, then every time, the thought process in the room is richer,” Brewer said.  
  • Focus training of retail employees on personal empathy and customer interaction. A pharmacist, for example, is often the first person a customer meets after an unwelcome diagnosis. 
  • Speak up to your leaders – and leaders, listen up – as workplace pressures continue to mount, triggering troublesome declines in workforce retention.  

Rosalind “Roz” Brewer, the youngest of five children born to General Motors workers in a Detroit family, shared stories and lessons from her rapid career rise Wednesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference in an interview with Detroit Public Television anchor Christy McDonald.

Brewer held executive posts at Kimberly-Clark, Walmart, and Sam’s Club before attracting national attention at Starbucks for her adept handling of the 2018 Philadelphia incident as chief operating officer. She joined Amazon’s board of directors in 2019 and was named chief executive officer of Walgreen Boots Alliance in March of 2021.  

Brewer said Walgreen Boots is “all in” as a leading outlet for COVID-19 vaccines, with 9,100 U.S. locations providing them to 30 million people already, working with partners ranging from interfaith churches to Uber drivers to get as many people vaccinated as possible.  

“Our footprint,” she said, “provides stores within five miles of 75% of the U.S. population.” 

Walgreen Boots is also in the process of boosting wages of all its employees to $15 an hour or more and has plans to offer more flexible work arrangements to help stem the decline in workforce retention, especially among women. 

Brewer said in today’s world of instant social media impact, leaders faced with crises must respond immediately and forcefully, as Brewer did by closing all Starbucks stores for a “day of reckoning” and instituting racial bias training in all Starbucks locations addressing community uproar over the arrest of two young Black men in in a Philadelphia store.  

Brewer encouraged business leaders to consider “diversity of thought” in addition to racial and gender diversity when making decisions.  

 “Putting a techie in the room with the financial team and a communications person leads to a better outcome,” she said.  

 This session was sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio for the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference.