From chemist to CEO, Rosalind Brewer

Rosalind Brewer, CEO, Sam’s Club

As the first woman and the first African-American to hold a CEO position at one of Wal-Mart’s business units, Brewer, 49, replaced Brian Cornell as president and CEO of Sam’s Club in February.


By Mille Alderman
Photography courtesy of Wal-Mart

Brewer joined Wal-mart as regional vice president in 2006, overseeing operations in Georgia. From 2007 to January 2012, she was division president of the southeast. Most recently, she was executive vice president and president of Wal-Mart East, a territory that includes nearly 1,600 stores in six regions — spanning from Maine to Puerto Rico.

Now, she’s head of a company with locations worldwide. Sam’s Club, which accounts for about 12 percent of Wal-Mart’s annual sales with a revenue of $50 billion, has outperformed its namesake stores. As Brewer took the stage at the 50th annual Wal-Mart Shareholders meeting in June, she celebrated the company’s seven quarters of consecutive increases and announced the first quarter this year was the highest in eight years.

“Sam Walton made history by changing retail over the past 50 years,” she said, at the meeting, “but now it’s our turn for the next 50 years.”

Brewer, born the same year as Sam Walton opened his first store in Rogers, was raised in Michigan as the youngest of five. She and her siblings were the first generation to go to college; her parents funded her education with a combination of student loans and scholarships. Brewer earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Spelman College in Atlanta. Founded in 1924, Spelman has since held the distinction of being America’s oldest Historically Black College for women and is accredited as a global leader in the education of women of African descent.

Brewer said she chose to serve as chair of the board of trustees at Spelman because of her genuine love for her alma mater and personal interest in investing in the education of African-American women. One of her most exciting duties as chair was presenting the Spelman National Community Service Award to Oprah Winfrey at the 2012 commencement ceremony.

Brewer continued her education by attending the advanced management program at The Wharton School and graduated from Director’s College at the University Of Chicago School of Business/Stanford School Of Law.

Straight out of school at the age of 22, Brewer worked for Kimberly-Clark Corp., starting as a scientist in Nonwoven Technology and Product Development before becoming president of the Global Nonwovens Sector in 2004. As vice president of the Nonwoven Fabrics Business, Rosalind revitalized an underperforming business unit and grew sales by more than 30 percent.

After 22 years at Kimberly Clark in Atlanta, she’s now settled in northwest Arkansas. Brewer is married to John, who she met while studying at Spelman, and he was at Morehouse. The couple has two children, and John is a former investment banker who became a stay-at-home dad.

Why were you interested in studying Chemistry?

I was convinced I wanted to be a physician, and I had always done well in math and science as a child. Once I learned that I am a weenie when it comes to blood and grieving, it changed my direction.

How has your education shaped your career?

My education shaped my career by teaching me discipline. College for me required focus, determination, independence and drive. My coursework at the end was grueling. Most importantly, my chemistry/science background has been key to my ability to problem solve.

What has been your greatest career achievement?

Joining Wal-Mart after a 22-year career with my first and only company after graduating from college. My agility, dedication to be a student of the business and the success I achieved in the role surprised me. I loved my career at Kimberly Clark, and never thought I would leave.

What led you to Wal-Mart and has made you want to stay?

Wal-Mart is a phenomenon in my mind. It is a rare company that allows you to impact many lives and many issues. There is no other employer in the world like this today. We provide opportunities that maybe only the military can compete with.

What lessons have you brought from other positions into your new role as CEO?

How to lead change! I have learned how to problem identify, create the team and draw the roadmaps. As my career has progressed, I have taught others that I lead how to do this. It’s a successful formula and tool set for leaders.

What core belief of Sam Walton’s do you admire most, and why?

“If you take care of the associate, the associate will take care of the customer.”

I truly believe in treating people the way I want to be treated and that’s with respect and honest intentions. Whenever I am true to this, success happens for me, the business and the company.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received or you’ve ever given?

Be agile, but never compromise core values, no matter the immediate pressure for results. Strategies must change over time as  business conditions migrate. Keep your ego under control: you are not the business. You’re just the leader at the time.


Chair of Board of Trustees for Spelman College, elected 2006, board chair since 2011; Director of Molson Coors Brewing Company, 2006 to 2011; Board of Directors for Lockheed Martin, since 2011; Board of Trustees for Westminster School, Atlanta; Board of Councilors for the Carter Presidential Center


Named FORTUNE Magazine’s list of “50 Most Powerful Women” 2010/11; Spelman College Legacy of Leadership; named one of the 25 Most Powerful Women to Watch-Atlanta; Black Enterprise’s list of the 75 Most Powerful Women in Business

1 Comment

  1. by Chandra on December 20, 2015  5:33 pm

    An amazing leader and example - thank you Roz!

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites