Rosalind Brewer: Starbucks COO, Outspoken Champion of Boardroom Diversity

Photo source: Starbucks

Rosalind Brewer’s career as an executive for huge corporations has given her a highly visible platform from which to speak out about the importance of diversity in business.

She spoke up for diversity as CEO and president of Sam’s Club, and she continues to do so now in her job as COO of Starbucks. Brewer’s personal example is powerful – she is the first woman and the first African-American to hold the job of COO at Starbucks, just as she was the first woman and the first African-American to be named a CEO in one of Wal-Mart’s major divisions.

By the time Brewer reached her mid-50s in 2017, the Detroit native appeared to be well on her way to even bigger things. Her current position once was occupied by current Starbucks president and CEO Kevin Johnson. Other former Sam’s Club CEOs include Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon and Target CEO Brian Cornell.

Brewer consistently has been named to Forbes’ annual list of 100 Most Powerful Women and Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women. She is on the Spelman College board of trustees and the Lockheed Martin board of directors.

Career Path

Rosalind Brewer graduated from Atlanta’s Spelman College with a bachelor’s in chemistry. That served her well during the first phase of her career, when she was a scientist for product manufacturer Kimberly-Clark.

She was elevated to president of Kimberly-Clark’s Global Nonwovens Sector in 2004, and joined Wal-Mart as a regional vice president in 2006. Within six years, she was running Sam’s Club.

During her tenure, Sam’s Club added drive-through pickup of online orders and scan purchasing for customers with smart phones. She also mandated healthier food choices at Sam’s Club, which experienced moderate growth during her five-year stay.

In early 2017, Brewer joined the Starbucks board of directors and retired from Sam’s. On Oct. 2, 2017, she assumed her role as Starbucks COO.

Leadership Style

In addition to being an outspoken champion for boardroom diversity, Brewer is a problem solver. She embraced the challenge of smoothing out launch problems with the mobile ordering and payment system.

She also dived head-first into the enormous challenge of helping Sam’s Club in its difficult retail battle with rival Costco. During her brief time after her retirement from Sam’s Club and assuming her COO role, Brewer worked to learn the coffee business inside and out – even spending time learning the ropes behind the counter as a barista.

In addition to focusing on further implementation of technology at Starbucks, Rosalind Brewer told Fortune magazine that she intends to simplify the jobs of store employees.

Words of Wisdom

On encouraging diversity: “I demand it of my team and within the structure. And then, every now and then, you have to nudge your partners, and you have to speak up and speak out.” – from a 2015 interview with CNN

“I try to set an example. I try to mentor many women inside my company and outside the company because I think it’s important.” – from the same CNN interview


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