DEERFIELD, Ill. — Stefano Pessina is bullish about the future of Walgreens Boots Alliance in the wake of Rosalind Brewer’s appointment to succeed him as the company’s chief executive officer. A former CEO of Walmart’s Sam’s Club division and currently chief operating officer and group president at Starbucks Corp., Brewer will join WBA on March 15, when Pessina will become executive chairman.
“The board conducted an extensive search to identify an exceptional leader who will build on WBA’s track record of success and take advantage of the many growth opportunities in many markets across the company. We are excited to have found that person in Roz,” Pessina said in a statement announcing the move late last month.
In a subsequent interview, he elaborated on the strengths that Brewer will bring to WBA, where she will become the only African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.
“When we started the search, we were looking for experience in three main areas,” Pessina explained. “The first was someone who understands retail and pharmacy, because pharmacy is a kind of retail; the second was health care; and the third, and maybe most important for us, was technology and digital skills.
“In the last three years, we’ve made a big effort to modernize the company, and now we can start to see the benefit of that work come through. More important, we have announced the formation of a new consumer-centric health care technology business. And this, of course, is centered on health care and medical experience, but it is based mainly on technology. I believe that it will become as big, if not bigger, than the company we have today. So Roz Brewer is a very good candidate for CEO because she has managed digital and technology transformations at two big companies, and she has a particular ability in doing this kind of work.”
At Starbucks, Brewer was responsible for the technology, marketing, supply chain, product innovation and store development functions around the world, as well as the specialty coffee retailer’s operating businesses across the Americas and Starbucks license stores.
Before joining Starbucks, Brewer served as president and CEO of Sam’s Club, the membership club division of Walmart, where she was the first woman and the first African American to head a major division. In fiscal 2016, the last before Brewer left for Starbucks, Sam’s Club generated sales of $57 billion.
Walmart hired Brewer in 2006 as a regional vice president. She subsequently became president of Walmart East before moving to Sam’s Club. Prior to Walmart, she worked at Kimberly-Clark Corp. for 22 years, starting as a scientist and ultimately serving as president of the global nonwovens division.
“We have done a very, very, very thorough search, looking at different people, different experience, different skills,” Pessina noted. “We are convinced that Roz is the best person for the job. Of course, we have to talk about the technology skills, the retail skills, the health care skills, but we have to remember that the most important thing for a chief executive is leadership — the ability to put people together, the ability to listen to people, the ability to manage people — and we have the feeling that she is very good at that.”
Pessina indicated that Brewer will have a free hand in structuring the organization as she sees fit, but said he will give her the benefit of his insights as the primary architect of WBA, which was formed through the 2014 merger of Walgreen Co. and Alliance Boots, the first global pharmacy-led health and wellness enterprise, which Pessina built over the course of three decades.
“I am looking forward to collaborating with Roz,” he said. “I can already tell that we will have a very good relationship and hope to help her in what she might need with my experience and with my advice. Together with the board, of course, we will try to understand what is the best strategy for the company.
“In my conversations with Roz, I’ve asked her what she would do as chief executive at WBA, and she has told me what she thinks we should do. I have to say that what she talked about resonated with me, because it is exactly what we think we need — putting the patient and the customer at the center of everything we do, and interacting with them through more specific, more tailored offerings. She understands that this is the direction we need to go.”