Starbucks Taps Former Wal-Mart Executive to Lead U.S. Unit

  • Rosalind Brewer will take over as chief operating officer
  • Company faces pressure over slowing sales in key U.S. market

Starbucks Corp., facing slowing growth in its home market, is turning to a former Wal-Mart executive for help in improving operations and boosting U.S. sales.

Rosalind Brewer, 55, will take over as chief operating officer in October, the Seattle-based company said on Wednesday. She will also serve as group president for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. 

Rosalind Brewer

Photographer: Sarah Bentham/Bloomberg

Brewer, who joined the coffee chain’s board of directors in March, spent more than 10 years at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., including a five-year stint running the company’s Sam’s Club chain. In that role, she was one of the most prominent black female executives in the U.S.

Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Kevin Johnson, who was promoted from the COO role earlier year, is under pressure as the chain faces slowing growth in the U.S., where it operates more than 13,000 cafes. The company’s popular mobile app has caused operational headaches that have hampered growth, and it recently cut its profit forecast for the year.

Starbucks shares have slipped 2.2 percent this year, closing at $54.31 Wednesday in New York.

In the announcement, Starbucks touted Brewer’s experience with “large-scale operations and supply-chain logistics.” As an executive at Sam’s Club, she also led the expansion of that chain’s digital operation.

“Those skills are transferable, especially when you look at the kind of growth Starbucks is having,” Brewer said in an interview.

Johnson starting discussions with Brewer about an executive role in the company about two months ago, after she had joined the board and was participating in deliberations about future plans for the coffee chain. Starbucks has said it will focus on two key areas as it seeks to bolster sales: the U.S. and China.

Brewer, who said she drinks two grande iced green teas a day, is now focused on fine-tuning Starbucks’ retail experience. That, along with the company’s digital push, is seen as key to its future growth.

“Those two pillars are core to what we’re trying to do,” Johnson said in an interview. “I think Roz, with her years of experience in retail, really understands that.”

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