CHICAGO, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Before taking on her new role as Starbucks Corp's second in command, Rosalind Brewer got hands-on experience brewing coffee at company cafes to get an idea how the world's biggest coffee seller could better serve customers.
Brewer, appointed chief operating officer at Starbucks on Wednesday, will be using that experience to improve business in key areas such as the company's U.S. and Chinese operations, as well as its online sales.
"I got a chance to spend some time behind the lines and live their (employees') lives a little bit and learn what it takes to make a cup of coffee, what's playing in their favor and what's working against them," Brewer told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
Brewer, who was already serving as a member of the retailer's board, will start in her new role on Oct. 2. She will be responsible for Starbucks' businesses across Canada, the United States and Latin America, as well as its global supply chain, product innovation, and store development.
At her former employer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Brewer was the first woman and the first African American to run a top business and was the longest serving CEO of its warehouse chain Sam's Club from 2012 until January this year. The dialogue between Brewer and Starbucks about the new role started when she was a board member, Starbucks Chief Executive Kevin Johnson told Reuters.
"Roz really asked great questions and had the insight into her experience from the past to operationalize some of these things as well as new ideas," Johnson said of one meeting when he briefed the board on Starbucks' strategic plan.
Johnson said Brewer would drive a "broad agenda" as the company builds two growth engines - the United States, which will be a key business driver for the retailer and China, which is the second largest and fastest growing market in the world for the chain.
To grow in the United States, one of the key elements will be expanding the chain's customer reach by using a digital-mobile experience, Johnson said.
As part of that, Brewer will focus on the Starbucks app. It accounts for 25 percent of purchases and its popularity has become an issue at stores, where pick-up lines for mobile orders are so long they discourage many customers from entering.
Brewer said she hoped to improve customer experience by making sure store employees were in the right place at peak hours to deal with online orders.
Brewer drove success at Sam's Club's by improving the chain's e-commerce business through initiatives like drive-through pick up of online orders and scan-and-go, which allows shoppers to scan items with their phones and speed up checkout. (Reporting by Nandita Bose in Chicago; Editing by Andrew Hay)