Rosalind Brewer: Rising Star in Wal-Mart

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 12:00 am  

Rosalind Brewer

A science laboratory is not traditionally the most likely training ground for a star in the world of retail.

That setting, however, is exactly where Sam’s Club President and CEO Rosalind Brewer got her start.

Brewer began her professional life as an organic chemist with Kimberly-Clark Corp. It was a much different world than the one she currently inhabits, but Brewer credits her time in the lab as key in growing into one of the highest-profile positions in the world of retail.

“I liked to problem-solve and find solutions, so my analytical skills carried with me throughout my career with Kimberly-Clark and into my retail career,” Brewer said. “After 22 years … I was ready to put the lessons I’d learned and the skills I’d honed into practice in a new environment.”

Brewer’s path to Sam’s Club CEO is an unlikely one. She spent more than two decades at Kimberly-Clark, beginning as a scientist and eventually working her way into the position of president of the nonwoven fabrics business. During her time as vice president of that division, sales grew by more than 30 percent.

From there, Brewer, a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta and of the Directors’ Consortium at the University of Chicago School of Business/Stanford School of Law, made her way to Wal-Mart. Her rise within the retail giant has been a relatively quick one and she is not shy about her plans for Sam’s Club, which generated $53 billion in revenue last year: Brewer wants to see Sam’s Club sales reach $80 billion to $100 billion.

Named one of the 50 most powerful women in business by Fortune magazine in 2010 and 2011, Brewer has identified areas the company can improve in order to reach that goal.

Growing mobile and eCommerce business is “a big focus for us in the coming year.” Brewer said it is important to provide Sam’s Club members with opportunities to shop when and where they need to, even if that transaction takes place outside the store.

Sam’s Club will open 12 new stores this year, and there is a focus on identifying locations close to metropolitan areas for further expansion. Improving and expanding the products offered — Brewer points out the addition of Apple and Eddie Bauer merchandise — are also key to reaching the company’s goals.

“We will be aggressive this year about finding unique merchandise for our members,” Brewer said in response to emailed questions.

Brewer, known to friends and family as “Roz,” learned the importance of setting goals and having a strong work ethic early in life. She points to her mother and father as early influences. Rona Wells, who oversaw manufacturing and engineering while Brewer was at Kimberly-Clark, was also a key mentor.

Wells “was the first woman ever to lead this male-dominated organization,” Brewer said. “She took me under her wing and taught me many of the unwritten rules. We are still best of friends today.”

 

 

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