Closing The Gap

Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer on the biggest career risk she's ever taken and how it paid off: ‘I'm really glad I left that legacy there’

Rosalind "Roz" Brewer
Jason Redmond | Afp | Getty Images

Risk-taking might feel counterintuitive on the job, but taking a leap of faith can help your career flourish.

This is true even later in your professional life: Roz Brewer, the CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and former COO of Starbucks, didn't take the biggest risk of her career until after she got promoted to the C-Suite — but it would forever change her approach to work. 

Brewer tells CNBC Make It that she "had to remove the leader of one of the largest entities at the company" in one of her previous jobs (she did not specify the company). "It was a very fine line between putting the business at risk, if we continued with this person, and hiring new talent, which was also a risk, to take on the role."

Although the leader in question was "very popular" with employees, Brewer says she knew in her gut that the person could not help push the business forward — so she "pulled the trigger" and replaced them. 

The weeks following the decision were "rough" as employees and people on the board of directors questioned Brewer's actions. "It was almost like running for mayor, trying to convince people why I made the right call and how it fit into my longer-term vision for the business to succeed," she explains.  

Within a month, Brewer says the candidate she hired started "adding value" to the business. Even if some of Brewer's colleagues didn't trust her decision-making from the get-go, they see the value in taking that risk now.

"I got a text the other day from someone at that company saying the person has strong upward mobility in the company and the business is progressing as a result," she says. "Taking that risk paid off, and I'm really glad I left that legacy there."

That experience taught Brewer an important lesson, one that continues to guide her career to this day: "You have to be your own champion."

Brewer has learned to trust her gut while making important decisions in her job and for her career above all else, and encourages others to tap into their intuition. 

"You have to find that confidence within yourself to say, 'I know this is right and I'm going to stand by my decision,' even if there's a second voice in your head doubting you or other people questioning your moves," she says. "Once people see your vision and the positive results come to life, they will understand why you did what you did."

Some risks are less intimidating than others — but for the decisions that will have the greatest impact on your career, whether it's asking for a raise or switching careers, Brewer says, "stick to your guns and feel good about the decisions you make."

Check out:

3 Fortune 500 CEOs share the advice, lessons and skills that have shaped their success

The 10 best CEOs for women, according to female employee reviews

'Nope' star Keke Palmer on handling rejection and staying consistent: 'I try not to have an ego'

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

How tapping into this ancient Japanese concept could help you figure out your calling
How tapping into this ancient Japanese concept could help you figure out your calling