DEERFIELD, Ill. — Rona Fourte’s career path to Walgreens may have been one she was destined to be on. Today, she is the director of supplier diversity for Walgreens. However, when she was first starting out after college, little did she realize that one day her path would take a turn into the retail space.
“I must admit that retail was a new industry for me when I joined Walgreens seven years ago. I began my professional career in accounting and finance. For about 10 years after graduation from DePaul University, I worked primarily in real estate for large residential and commercial developers,” she relates.
Fourte points out that one of the most notable highlights of her career, and one that probably led to her current position at Walgreens, was learning about supplier diversity while working as a consultant for a management consulting firm overseeing projects for the U.S. and Illinois departments of transportation. “That experience changed the application of my accounting skills and made my career journey more rewarding by allowing me to support an entrepreneurial spirit in the marketplace,” she says.
In a similar role, she directed the Chicago Minority Business Opportunity Center, a $1.2 million U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency-funded project. She is credited with executing financial transactions for minority-owned businesses in excess of $105 million.
Fourte has also led IT systems design projects for organizational transformations as an employee and as a consultant and has earned recognition in diversity publications for advocacy, for commitment and, most importantly, for delivering results that have contributed to the development and economic growth of the diverse-owned businesses.
Over her career, Fourte has proven to be a results-driven executive and veteran facilitator of diversity and inclusion strategies. All this has helped lead her to a role where she and her team are the primary liaison and subject matter experts for identifying, developing and introducing diverse suppliers to opportunities at Walgreens.
“As director of supplier diversity for Walgreens, I am responsible for setting the strategy for ensuring that we expand the use of diverse-owned businesses in procurement and tracking against established goals,” Fourte notes.
She leads a team to impact the diverse-owned business inclusion rate in contracting for merchandise, goods not for resale and professional services, and is an integral leader within the Global Office of Diversity and Inclusion currently supporting Walgreens’ human resources strategy work as a co-lead in developing employee brand ambassadors.
In addition, she successfully launched two job readiness programs at Walgreens for youth aging out of foster care to gain entry-level store positions.
For her dedication and success in leading Walgreens’ diversity efforts, Fourte has been chosen by the editors of MMR as one of Six Executives Who Made a Difference in mass market retailing in 2017.
Fourte points out that the country is becoming more ethnically diverse and shifts in retail demographics are making its supplier diversity program extremely important going forward. “According to the Center for American Progress, the demographic of the U.S. is rapidly changing, with some projecting that by 2060 there will be 22 states that have an ethnic majority. Retailers stand to lose if this large of a segment of the U.S. population is not engaged in their strategic growth plans. Engagement includes identifying product preferences, shopping preferences and businesses owned by this demographic segment to offer insight and creativity for stronger consumer connections and increased loyalty.”
She adds that this program is definitely making a difference in the community. For example, after enrolling a minority-owned construction company as a supplier, that business has had increased opportunities to work with Walgreens and other major retailers. “Supplier diversity programs provide a channel for local economic impact through job creation. We have many diverse-owned businesses that provide Walgreens with products and services and hire locally, thereby contributing to the tax base of those communities. The demography is changing in the U.S., so it is important that all segments of the population are engaged to ensure future revenue growth.”
When asked what she likes best about working in the retail space and at Walgreens, she replies, “Aside from being a loyal Walgreens shopper for as long as I can remember before working here, I had no idea of the background on the products that were being offered. Now that I’ve experienced retail from the other side, I can say that what I like best about the industry is the constant change, innovation and creativity that are essential to retail and how demographics play so heavily into the direction that we take.”
“What I enjoy most about working for Walgreens is the foundation that it was built upon, the patient and customer dynamic, and how that still holds true today. Working for a company and with colleagues that have this type of mindset is very inspiring,” she concludes.