September 4, 2023

No Black Women Left On S&P 500 Following Walgreens CEO Departure

Walgreens Boots Alliance has announced the departure of its CEO, Rosalind Brewer. According to Bloomberg, Brewer was the sole remaining Black female CEO of an S&P 500 company; the last Black woman to lead an S&P 500 company was Ursula Burns, who left Xerox in 2016.

Like many retailers, Walgreens faced challenges this year as the demand for COVID-19 testing and vaccines declined, and retail sales experienced a slowdown. Brewer’s departure is part of the company’s transition into a healthcare company instead of a drugstore.

According to CNBC, shares of Walgreens fell about 7% following the news.

Brewer’s tenure

In March 2021, Brewer joined Walgreens as its CEO just as COVID-19 vaccines became available to the public. Before her time with Walgreens, Brewer served as Starbucks’ operating chief and group president, led Walmart’s Sam’s Club as its CEO, and spent a decade with Walmart in various executive positions.

During her time at Walgreens, Brewer initiated a strategic shift toward healthcare growth in October 2021. Under her leadership, the company established a vaccine scheduling system, ensured safe store operations during the pandemic, and promoted vaccine equity.

Additionally, Brewer oversaw significant cost savings through the company’s transformational cost management program. To date, WBA has administered over 70 million vaccine shots, reflecting the impact of Brewer’s tenure.

Walgreens’ Challenges

Despite Brewer’s leadership and achievements, CNBC reports Walgreens’ shares plummeted by over 32% in the current year, driven by a decline in demand for COVID-19 testing and vaccines.

Walgreens also witnessed a consistent drop in retail sales for everyday items, with consumers turning to competitors like Walmart and Amazon, who offer convenient online ordering and delivery.

In June, the company reported fiscal third-quarter earnings that fell short of Wall Street expectations for the first time in nearly a year. It subsequently reduced its profit guidance for the year.

Brewer’s departure

According to a press release, Brewer’s departure was a mutual decision.

“This is perhaps one of the most difficult notes I have ever written over the course of my career,” Brewer wrote on LinkedIn, announcing her departure.

Read: Major Media Companies Lose 4 Black Diversity Leaders – A Step Backwards?

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead Walgreens Boots Alliance and to work alongside such talented and dedicated colleagues.”

Retail analyst and GlobalData managing director Neil Saunders told CNBC that the retail side of the business, where Brewer had extensive experience, was not a primary growth area for Walgreens. Instead, the company sought to pivot toward healthcare as a major opportunity.

Ginger Graham, the interim CEO succeeding Brewer, brings a wealth of healthcare expertise to guide the company in this new direction.

Samara Linton

Community Manager at POCIT | Co-editor of The Colour of Madness: Mental Health and Race in Technicolour (2022), and co-author of Diane Abbott: The Authorised Biography (2020)