Walgreens Boots Alliance is to become the only company in the S&P 500 to be run by a black woman after the drugstore group appointed Starbucks’ Roz Brewer as chief executive.
Ms Brewer, the coffee chain’s 58-year-old chief operating officer, is to replace the Italian-born billionaire Stefano Pessina, 79, who is becoming executive chairman of the company he built into a global pharmacy and healthcare powerhouse.
She is due to take the helm of WBA, which employs more than 450,000 people and has more than 21,000 stores, in March and will have a brief to revive the fortunes of the US-based company, whose shares have lost 38 per cent in the past five years.
The New York-listed group’s bricks and mortar stores, which include the Walgreens and Duane Reade chains in the US and the UK’s Boots, have come under pressure, and the coronavirus crisis has added to the difficulties. Shoppers have made fewer visits to stores in the pandemic, and health services have postponed routine treatment, reducing demand for prescriptions.
This month WBA struck a deal to sell its distribution business, Alliance Healthcare, for about $6.5bn to AmerisourceBergen, the US drug wholesaler.
Wall Street welcomed the appointment of Ms Brewer, sending WBA’s shares up 8.4 per cent in after-hours trading.
WBA issued a statement announcing the appointment after Starbucks said earlier on Tuesday Ms Brewer was leaving to join an unnamed listed company. Starbucks said the identity of the company would be disclosed in coming days, and The Wall Street Journal subsequently identified WBA.
Ms Brewer, who is a board member at Amazon, is expected to stand aside from her role at the tech group upon taking the position at WBA.
Ms Brewer’s departure from Starbucks is the latest change in the leadership ranks at the world’s biggest coffee chain, which said this month that Patrick Grismer was standing aside as chief financial officer.
Starbucks said her responsibilities would be “distributed to other members of the existing leadership team”.
Ms Brewer, who is ranked number 27 on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, has been Starbucks’ COO for more than three years, where WBA said she had been “instrumental in helping the company accelerate its growth strategy, expand its global reach and drive value”.
She previously spent more than a decade at Walmart, culminating in a five-year spell at the helm of Sam’s Club, the retailer’s warehouse club division. Before that the chemistry graduate worked for the consumer products group Kimberly-Clark for 22 years, starting as a scientist.
Ms Brewer said in a statement that WBA was a “world-class and trusted organisation whose purpose I deeply admire”. “The healthcare industry is constantly evolving, and I am excited to work alongside the entire WBA team,” she said.
Mr Pessina is taking a less hands-on role at WBA following a lengthy career in the industry, in which he led a series of increasingly large takeover and merger deals. He took charge of the group in 2015, shortly after the combination of Alliance Boots and Walgreens.
He said in a statement: “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.”