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3 things to know about Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks' first female and African-American COO

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On September 6, Starbucks announced the appointment of Rosalind Brewer to the role of group president and chief operating officer of the company, making her the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position.

In a press release, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson described Brewer as "a world class operator and executive who embodies the values of Starbucks," adding that she reflects the "strength and diversity" of the organization.

With years of leadership, including her most recent position as CEO of Sam's Club, Brewer is well-positioned to help the ubiquitous $84.6 billion coffee brand continue to grow. Here are three things that have defined her career so far:

Rosalind Brewer, Group President and Chief Operating Officer of Starbucks.
Source: Starbucks
Rosalind Brewer, Group President and Chief Operating Officer of Starbucks.

She knows the importance of relationship building

Before stepping into her role as Sam's Club CEO in 2012, Brewer served six years in executive roles with Wal-Mart and 22 years at Kimberly-Clark, where she worked her way up from a research technician to president of manufacturing and operations.

During her time at Sam's Club, Brewer connected with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in a very unexpected way.

According to Fortune, Schultz came to the retailer's Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters in 2016 for a panel discussion with Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon. But when McMillon had to cancel at the last minute, he called on Brewer to stand-in (Sam's Club is owned by Wal-Mart.)

From there, the two continued to build on their relationship, with Brewer and her team visiting Starbucks' flagship "roastery" in Seattle, where Schultz asked Brewer if she would consider joining the company's board. Fortune reports that Brewer initially declined Schultz's offer, but joined Starbucks board earlier this year after stepping down from her leadership position at Sam's Club.

Kevin Johnson, who took over as Starbucks CEO in April, tells Fortune that Brewer's impressive work as a board member is what made him consider her for the COO role about two months ago as other board members agreed that she would be a great addition to the company's executive team.

"She has been a trusted strategic counselor to me ever since she joined our board of directors, and I deeply value her insight, business acumen and leadership expertise," Johnson said in a press release.

She makes diversity a business priority

In 2015, Brewer faced scrutiny after an interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow in which she spoke about her commitment to enforcing diversity at Sam's Club. As the first woman and African-American CEO of Sam's Club, Brewer said she demands diversity on her team and that she openly talked to her suppliers about it as well.

"Every now and then you have to nudge your partners," she said. "You have to speak up and speak out. And I try to use my platform for that. I try to set an example."

Opening up about some of her experiences as a minority woman in corporate America, Brewer recalled one meeting she had with a supplier where she said "the entire other side of the table was all Caucasian male." After explaining her plans to place a call to the supplier to address their lack of diversity, Brewer faced backlash on social media and was called a "racist," with some consumers calling for a boycott of the retailer with the hashtag #BoycottRacistSamsClub.

McMillon came to Brewer's defense amid the backlash and explained how Wal-Mart stood behind making diversity a business priority.

"Roz was simply trying to reiterate that we believe diverse and inclusive teams make for a stronger business. That's all there is to it and I support that important ideal," he wrote in a statement.

Brewer's commitment to building diverse teams also aligns with that of Starbucks, which has emphasized diversity not only in the boardroom, but with campaigns like "Race Together," and their pledge to hire 10,000 refugees.

She understands the value of innovation

During her five-year tenure as CEO at Sam's Club, Brewer made progress in improving the company's curbside pickup service and e-commerce efforts, including introducing a process that allows customers to scan items with their phones in order to speed up checkout.

In 2016, Sam's Club made aggressive efforts to open more locations in affluent areas to help attract higher-income customers and give regional consumers more say in what the retailer sells in their area. Brewer called the moves a "reset" for business as they worked to push past their competitor, Costco Wholesale, in sales growth.

When it was announced that she was stepping down from her position with Sam's Club, McMillon praised Brewer, who Fortune listed as No. 19 on its 2016 50 Most Powerful Women list, for her hard work in moving the company forward.

"She's leaving Sam's with momentum," Fortune reports McMillon saying. "Roz and the team have developed a strategy that's led to three consecutive quarters of improving comp sales and some exciting innovation."

Brewer, who graduated from Spelman College with a bachelor's degree in chemistry, is set to start her position as COO of Starbucks on October 2. She will remain on the company's board while also serving on the board of Lockheed Martin Corporation and serving as a trustee of Spelman.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of Wal-Mart's headquarters, which is Bentonville, Arkansas.

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