Walgreens Boots Alliance turned in solid quarterly results at the beginning of the month and, in the process, shed some light on the future of the company under CEO Roz Brewer, as well as on the broader retailing and health care sectors as they cope with the massive disruptions caused by COVID-19. During the third quarter of fiscal 2021, WBA posted earnings per share from continuing operations of $1.27 versus a loss of $2.05 a year ago; on an adjusted basis that figure jumped 95.1% to $1.38. Sales from continuing operations advanced 12.1% to $34 billion. In light of the strong performance, the company raised its profit guidance for the year from mid-to-high single-digit growth to around 10%.
The results, which exceeded expectations, reflect the emphasis that Brewer, who succeeded Stefano Pessina as CEO in mid-March, has placed on operational excellence. Citing WBA’s rollout of COVID immunizations as an example of “our ability to move at pace and deliver at scale,” she told financial analysts that the company has a strong foundation on which to “build the pharmacy of the future and new health care solutions.”
Brewer reiterated her commitment to WBA’s strategic priorities — developing neighborhood health care destinations with pharmacies at their center, accelerating digitization, restructuring the retail offer, and effective cost management — and indicated that the intensive review of the company’s current operations, plans and future prospects that she undertook after becoming CEO continues apace. “Currently, I’m examining and challenging all parts of our enterprise strategy, and there will be some key principles guiding our work ahead and leveraging our right to win,” she said.
WBA’s recent results, together with Brewer’s track record and methodical approach, bode well for the company. The quarterly report does, however, also serve as a reminder about the volatility stemming from COVID that businesses will have to work through before things settle into a predictable pattern. The surge in COVID immunizations (thus far Walgreens has administered over 25 million) played an important part in fueling the increases at WBA during the third quarter. But in the U.S., demand for the vaccines is slowing, a trend that will make further gains harder to come by.
Similar developments are playing out across the economy. To cite just one example, supermarket operators are seeing sales recede as restaurants and other eating-away-from home options rebound. Brewer and other business leaders will have to be especially perceptive, agile and adaptive as the unpredictable market forces unleashed by the pandemic run their course.