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The Next Walgreens CEO? My Top 3 Picks to Replace Roz Brewer.

Roz Brewer joined Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA) as its chief executive officer (CEO) with great fanfare in January 2021.

“The Board conducted an extensive search to identify an exceptional leader who will build on WBA’s track record of success and take advantage of the many growth opportunities in many markets across the company. We are excited to have found that person in Roz,” said Stefano Pessina, the business’ largest shareholder.

On Sept. 1, Brewer stepped down as CEO and board member after less than two years in the job.

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“Roz navigated the company through the global pandemic, overseeing the critical rollout of vaccines in Walgreens pharmacies and to high-risk populations across the country. She furthered our consumer facing capabilities while supporting the culture of community and team-member engagement in difficult times,” Pessina stated in the stunning announcement.

WBA stock continues to move lower as the company searches for the next Walgreens CEO. It’s down 14% since the beginning of September and more than 41% year-to-date.

There’s no question that Brewer didn’t live up to her resume. However, it just might be that Walgreens is unfixable.

Who becomes the next CEO is the million-dollar question. Here are my three picks to take the reins.

Laura Alber, Williams Sonoma (WSM)

Williams-Sonoma (WSM) store in a shopping mall
Williams-Sonoma (WSM) store in a shopping mall

Source: designs by Jack / Shutterstock.com

There are currently 52 companies in the Fortune 500 that have women CEOs. Wait, I apologize; with Brewer’s departure, the number has dropped to 51.

Therefore, my first suggestion will come from the list of quality women on Fortune’s list. They don’t necessarily have to have retail or healthcare experience, but they definitely need senior management experience.

Preferably, they should also have been in their current job for several years. Let’s say at least five — since 2018. That reduces the field of candidates to 14.

I don’t know if she wants a new challenge — the task would be enormous — but Williams Sonoma (NYSE:WSM) CEO Laura Alber has been one of America’s best leaders over the past 13 years, rising through the ranks at the specialty retailer, to become CEO in May 2010.

Alber just turned 55, so conceivably, she has another decade of leadership.

“I thought I’d have my own company and be an entrepreneur,” Alber told Investor’s Business Daily in July 2021. ”When I came to Williams Sonoma I was thrilled to be at a company where I was able to do that and was given the responsibility to grow businesses.”

Whoever Walgreens hires will have to be given complete control of the future direction of the business and the green light to do whatever needs to be done to right the ship.

Alber’s used to high margins — it had an operating margin of 15.5% in the trailing 12 months — so I’m not sure she wants the hassles of a business with a five-year average operating margin of 1.4%.

She’s a natural leader.

Joseph Zubretsky, Molina Healthcare (MOH)

The logo for Molina Healthcare displayed on a smartphone screen.
The logo for Molina Healthcare displayed on a smartphone screen.

Source: rafapress / Shutterstock.com

Since Joseph Zubretsky was hired as CEO of Molina Healthcare (NYSE:MOH) in October 2017, the provider of managed healthcare services through Medicaid and Medicare has seen its stock appreciate by 393% — more than five times better than the S&P 500.

Zubretsky’s background suits the job — he’s spent more than 35 years in the insurance and financial services industries, including 9 years at Aetna in various senior positions — and he’s coming up on his sixth anniversary in the top job.

“Joe is the right CEO to lead Molina during this transformative period. He has a track record of strong leadership across multiple businesses, both inside and outside managed care, and has first-hand experience in leading restructuring efforts at previous organizations,” stated Molina Chairman Dale Wolf in October 2017.

That last sentence, in particular, stands out.

Through its VillageMD subsidiary, the company acquired primary care provider Summit Health-CityMD for $8.9 billion in early 2023. It has more than 370 clinics in the Northeast and Oregon. It was part of Walgreens’ big push into healthcare.

Whoever takes the job must figure out how to balance the company’s desire for growth through primary care and its legacy pharmacy operations.

“Healthcare is a lucrative sector, and Walgreens is not wrong to see it as a major part of its future playbook,” Global Data Managing Director Neil Saunders told the AP. “However, the new permanent CEO will need to remember that it is possible to invest in both healthcare and retail. It should not be an either/or decision.”

Although Zubretsky is 65, I think he could get the company on the right footing before his 70th birthday.

It’s an inspired choice but unlikely.

Ginger Graham, Walgreens (WBA)

WBA Stock Looking Healthier Now That It’s in the Dow
WBA Stock Looking Healthier Now That It’s in the Dow

Source: Shutterstock

Walgreens’ lead independent director, Ginger Graham, is the interim CEO of the company. She has nearly three decades of healthcare experience and has served on Walgreens’ board since 2010.

“Ginger is the ideal person to serve as interim CEO, given her leadership experience across multiple segments of the healthcare industry, deep knowledge of WBA, and strong operational skills,” Pessina stated in the press release announcing the transition.

Her most recent CEO position was between 2003 and 2007 when she led Amylin Pharmaceuticals, which Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) acquired in 2012.

Unfortunately, at 66, she might not want to jump into such a challenge, especially since she’s already quite busy with her Ginger and Baker cafe and bakery in Fort Collins, Colorado.

If the company wants to hit the ground running, she’s the perfect candidate.

Maybe they can move Walgreens’ head office to Fort Collins. It would sure make it easier for Graham to consider the job seriously.

On the date of publication, Will Ashworth did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

Will Ashworth has written about investments full-time since 2008. Publications where he’s appeared include InvestorPlace, The Motley Fool Canada, Investopedia, Kiplinger, and several others in both the U.S. and Canada. He particularly enjoys creating model portfolios that stand the test of time. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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