Updated Sep 1, 2023 - Economy

Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer steps down amid retail health care shakeup

photo of a woman in glasses and a red dress against a screen as she's presenting

Rosalind "Roz" Brewer in March 2019. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

Walgreens Boots Alliance announced Friday that Roz Brewer had stepped down as CEO and board member, in a decision described as mutual.

  • Longtime board member Ginger Graham will serve as interim CEO until a permanent successor is found.

Why it matters: Retail pharmacy has been in a state of upheaval as shoppers spend less time and money in stores on every day goods and prescriptions, thanks to abundant options online.

  • The boom in business that the pandemic provided as consumers sought testing and vaccines has also subsided — pushing both Walgreens and CVS to make massive investments in primary care delivery to secure their future in health care.

Zoom in: Brewer took charge in March 2021, a few months after the U.S. saw a surge in COVID cases.

  • Reportedly hand-picked by executive chairman and former CEO Stefano Pessina, Brewer joined from Starbucks where she was COO.
  • Walgreens had hoped to tap into her retail, digital and consumer-focused experience to grow deeper into health care.
  • The company said today that it wants "a successor with deep healthcare experience."

Zoom out: From Big Tech's ambitions, to corporate focus on employees' mental well being, health care has never been more of a consumer-facing business. Brewer's sudden departure leaves the company in search of a new leader at a pivotal time.

  • During Brewer's tenure, Walgreens' digital sales grew to outpace similar competitors.
  • Meanwhile, curbside pickups sped up to under 30 minutes based on national averages.

And the company pushed further into health care access by doubling down on primary care centers with a $5.2 billion investment, and expanding revenue streams from specialty and urgent care centers through last year's nearly $9 billion Summit Health deal.

Yes, but: Walgreens stock fell more than 50% during Brewer's time at the helm.

  • CFO James Kehoe also stepped down last month, leaving a vacuum at the top that can potentially create "some investor unease," Evercore ISI analyst Elizabeth Anderson said in a note Friday.

The intrigue: The Wall Street Journal noted Brewer's acquisition strategy differed somewhat from Pessina's approach to partnerships.

  • He also remains one of the company's largest individual investors.

What to watch: Brewer will be a paid adviser through the month of February next year. She will also receive a cash severance of $9 million, according to a company filing.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Tina Reed: This is a big deal not only because Brewer was one of the most prominent leaders in the health care industry. She was one of only a few Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

  • Brewer brought strong retail experience to the pharmacy chain from her previous tenure in the C-suite at both Starbucks and Sam's Club.
  • But as Evercore's Anderson pointed out, the move is not entirely unexpected given Walgreen's sinking share price and weakening performance of its core business, along with the company's focus on health care delivery.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional context and details from a company filing.

Go deeper: Updated COVID shots are coming in mid-September as cases spike

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