Rosalind Brewer: an up-and-coming woman executive who is leading the way for others

By Maria Saporta

Few folks in town the name of the Atlanta woman executive who oversees a business that generates $110 billion in revenues and more than 500,000 employees.

The woman? Rosalind Brewer, president of Wal-Mart East (a territory that stretches from Maine to Puerto Rico and includes about 1,600 stores) and executive vice president of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Brewer was the keynote speaker at the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday, which also was Rotarian-daughter day. It was one of those rare Rotary lunches where the women actually out-numbered the men.

In her talk, Brewer shared several lessons that she had “learned along the way” through her career.

“I’ve found that it is so important that we remain lifelong learners,” said Brewer, who actually received her bachelor’s of science degree in chemistry from Atlanta-based Spelman College before completing an advanced management program from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Rosalind Brewer

As an example of her lifelong learning experience, she also attended the Director’s College at the University of Chicago’s Stanford School of Law. As a past president of the Georgia-based Board of Directors Network, Brewer has been an advocate for more women and minorities serving on corporate boards and in executive suites.

Today, Brewer is an independent director on Denver-based Molson Coors Brewing Co. board and an independent director on the board of Lockheed Martin Corp., which is based in Bethesda, Md.

Back to her life lessons…. “It’s important for women to always work their communications skills,” she said. “You are not going to get a chance to always get your thoughts out there. Work on how you articulate what you know.”

Also, instead of “networking,” Brewer believes in a deeper kind of connection by “building very strong, very important relationships.” When women connect with the right people, they can get a seat at the table. In that same vein, she said never forget your good friends.

Lastly, Brewer told the women in the room “realize your full potential. It’s important to really know yourself. It’s about knowing who you are.”

During her speech, Brewer also spoke of the special challenges that Wal-Mart faces in this difficult economy. Customers are more dependent on food stamps, and that is impacting the timing of when customers come to the stores.

Also Wal-Mart is working with First Lady Michelle Obama to get families and children to eat healthier foods. “We are bringing our stores to food deserts,” Brewer said talking of communities with a lack of grocery stores selling fresh produce.

Wal-Mart also has created new, smaller stores for urban areas — known as Wal-Mart Express. “We are bringing 15 of those stores to Atlanta in the next two months,” Brewer said.

In some communities where there are no grocery stores — like Detroit, Wal-Mart is selling food from trucks that it brings to neighborhoods where fresh produce is hard to come by.

For Brewer, working for Wal-Mart “gives me a chance to bring my head and my heart together.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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