As we celebrate Black History Month, Cheddar is highlighting prominent Black Americans who are carving their own historic paths and trailblazing in their industries. While Black History Month has become synonymous with reflecting on past achievements of Black Americans, it is important that we acknowledge today's historic feats as they happen.
Rosalind Brewer seen on day two of Summit LA19 in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
As the coronavirus pandemic emerged in 2020, retailers struggled with sales as people isolated themselves at home, and Walgreens was no exception. The drugstore brand shook up its chain of command after a quarterly loss of $1.7 billion and hired Rosalind Brewer, former Starbucks COO, as its new CEO.
The move would be a historic milestone for the company and Brewer as she became Walgreens' first Black woman chief executive and one of two Black women now leading a Fortune 500 company. Only four Black women in total have ever helmed a Fortune 500 business.
Brewer's appointment came at one of the most critical times during the pandemic as questions arose about how vaccines would be distributed and who would be prioritized. Walgreens was one of the first retail pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the public after being tapped by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For Brewer, making history in leadership roles has become commonplace. In 2012, she became the first woman and Black CEO of Sam's Club's, a Walmart subsidiary. While Walgreens made a landmark hire, Brewer noted that being in these spaces with other executives and not seeing people who look like her can be lonely. She's working to shift the culture whenever she can.
"Many times I am called upon and asked to give my opinion on diversity issues, and I will be honest with you: I am as frank as I can possibly be, because I do think I hold a unique position," Brewer said in an interview with Adi Ignatius, Editor-in-Chief of Harvard Business Review.
Sam's Club President and CEO Rosalind Brewer asks a question during a panel discussion at the Wal-Mart U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Brewer, who has become known as a champion of diversity, worked to change the culture at Starbucks during her tenure as COO after the store manager of a Philadelphia location called the police on two Black men who had sat down in the location without ordering. In an interview with the Today Show, she said the incident was "very personal."
"I saw these two young men, and what really struck me was they were the same exact age as my son, John, and I knew right away that I had to dive into this one," Brewer said. "This could have happened to him."
Following the 2018 incident, 8,000 Starbucks locations shuttered their doors for racial bias training. The coffee chain also adopted an "open bathroom" policy that allows anyone who enters a location to use the restrooms, even if they don't make a purchase.