But that’s not the whole story.
These days, she’s embracing the importance of bringing your authentic self to work. Peters, who stepped into the role of senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Walgreens in May, is also a believer that storytelling can be a powerful tool. Even her own story.
Peters is of Chinese ethnicity but was born in Vietnam, where she lived with her family until they immigrated to the U.S. in 1980. They left on an illegal boat with a few thousand other people, and their cargo ship made its way to Hong Kong Harbor after a failed attempt by the ship’s captain to leave the passengers stranded on a deserted island. At the time, the Hong Kong government was dealing with a significant increase in refugees. Unable to manage the onslaught, the government decided to stop accepting more people. The passengers were forced to stay on the cargo ship—and they remained stranded in the harbor for five excruciating months.
“Imagine thousands of people on a cargo ship. No food, no water, just trying to survive,” Peters remembers. “Eventually, there was a group of men who said, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’ And they swam for shore. My father was one of those people. And because a number of the men could not swim, the government was forced into action when they began to drown. It was the beginning of my family’s journey to the United States.”
Years later, Peters learned that her family’s immigration journey was featured in a National Geographic cover story. She hangs onto the article to this day—a physical reminder of how far she’s come. She also has the name of the cargo ship, “Skyluck,” inscribed on her wrist. It’s a constant reminder for her to be grateful for the life she’s achieved.
“I now realize that my immigration story has had a profound impact on who I am as a person and as a leader,” Peters says. “A decade ago, I don't know that I would have been proud to share my story or thought that it would be relevant to others. But it has given me not only a reason to lead with empathy but also a deeply rooted commitment to help those who are underserved and underrepresented. It’s why Walgreens’ mission and purpose resonate with me on such a personal level. I am an example of what can happen when someone has access to support, services and a community.”
Forging her career path
She really did grow up in Minnesota. Peters graduated from University of Minnesota with a degree in public relations and advertising before getting her MBA at the University’s Carlson School of Management. Fast forward to today, and she has a resume unlike many others.
Before joining Walgreens, Peters worked for some of the biggest consumer brands in the world: Best Buy, Target, SpartanNash, Ulta Beauty, Starbucks and Calvin Klein. The thread connecting all these brands was the opportunity to help transform business models and organizations, modernize and innovate new marketing capabilities, and create first-to-market customer experiences.
“I've worked in what feels like every industry and type of customer journey, but the opportunity to come to Walgreens was really personal,” Peters says. “Especially going through the pandemic, keeping your family healthy was at the forefront of everybody’s mind, including my own. As a mom and a wife, the opportunity to meld what I'm personally passionate about with what we can do as a business is a dream come true.”
If data is king, loyalty is royalty
Throughout her career, Peters has been able to build, launch and grow loyalty programs for several major brands. The intersection of data, digital and customer experience is what she loves. Walgreens’ loyalty program, which relaunched in 2020 as myWalgreens, has recently hit a significant milestone: 100+ million members. Peters gets excited just thinking about the potential, and believes we’ve just scratched the surface.
“There are few loyalty programs of our size and scale,” she says. “It goes to show you just how many customers engage with our brand. We’ve done a really good job of building this program. Now we have to evolve our value proposition, program construct and member experience to deliver a more meaningful experience in the space of health and wellbeing.
“We also have an opportunity to innovate in terms of how we define engagement and loyalty and the impact that myWalgreens can have on the business as a driver of growth,” she continues. “Much of myWalgreens has played in the retail space, but there are huge opportunities as we think about pharmacy, Walgreens Health and our B2B partners.”
Little things, big impact: Her best customer experiences
What’s the best customer experience you’ve ever had? For Peters, it’s the moments when a brand has anticipated her needs and been there—when they’ve given her something she didn’t even know she needed.
And it usually shows up in small ways. Like the time when her 7-year-old son was obsessed with airplanes, and he created a giant cardboard airplane modeled after a Delta plane. She was so proud she took a photo, put it on social media and tagged @Delta.
“They reached out and said, ‘We would love to send your son something,’” Peters says. “Two weeks later, a package showed up at our house with a captain's hat, aviator glasses and a T-shirt. I cannot tell you how excited my son was to get that. And as a customer, I was just thrilled. That’s what I mean when I think of creating delightful experiences for our customers in a way that’s fun and unexpected. And to this day, my loyalty to Delta has remained strong because of that moment.
“It’s those little things that can really make or break a customer’s experience with our brand,” she continues. “I tell my team our job as marketers is to create a better customer experience. We need to expand what that looks like. What customer problem are we trying to solve?”
Finding your personal board of directors
Peters admits she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support from mentors and advocates along the way.
“Early on in my career, somebody gave me good advice. They said, ‘Just like companies have a board of directors, you need to have a personal board of directors,’” Peters says. “There are many facets of your career, of how you lead and of what leadership means, so having a group of leaders with varied backgrounds, experiences and strengths is powerful. I can go to them, ask a question and get five different responses. It expands my point of view and helps me be more informed and more thoughtful in my decision making. It’s not about one person serving multiple needs, it’s about multiple people serving one need.”
Her personal board is made up of leaders she’s worked with as well as people she admires and respects across different industries. She says the key is having a clear idea of your career goals and aspirations and what type of support or guidance you need to achieve them, and then selecting individuals who excel to fill your board.
How to be a leader, according to Linh
Just as Peters has built up her support network, she’s also established a leadership rulebook of sorts, her ways of working and how she interacts with her team. Here they are, in her words:
- Relationships matter. “Take time to build relationships that are rooted in trust, respect and transparency. It will enable you to move fast, innovate and take risks. And if you create that environment for your team, your people will run through walls for you.”
- Always assume positive intent. “One of my leaders gave me this advice early in my career, and I lead this way to this day.”
- Feedback is a gift. “As a leader, it’s important to give timely and actionable feedback to your teams. It’s also important for you to ask for feedback.”
- Your team’s success should be as important as your own success. “It's my duty as a leader to ensure my team is set up for success. That comes through empowerment, support, guidance and feedback. I'm really proud of the things I've accomplished, but some of the best moments of my career have been when I've helped other people succeed.”
- Be a lifelong learner. “Always be curious. Ask questions. Admit when you don’t know the answer. Some of my biggest achievements have been born out of working with people who were smarter than me.”
The power of a thank-you
The notion that small gestures can make waves has been adopted by some of the world’s most inspirational leaders, who know that recognition comes in many forms. When Peters thinks about leaders who inspire her, she brings up one of the last books she read: Indra Nooyi’s memoir “My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future.” Peters related to Nooyi on many levels—she’s a woman, a diverse leader, a wife and a mother. The book was business strategy meets human strategy, detailing how the former CEO of Pepsi juggled both home life and a successful career.
One of Nooyi’s leadership behaviors that resonated with Peters focused on the idea of recognition. While at Pepsi, Nooyi handwrote letters to the spouses and families of her direct reports thanking them for enabling their family member to show up and be a good leader. She also acknowledged that work sometimes took them away from family and thanked them for their unwavering support. Nooyi was met with unexpected admiration and an overwhelming outpouring of appreciation. She said it was one of the best things she ever did.
“It reminds you as a leader that we have an incredibly passionate, energetic, dedicated team, but that doesn't dismiss the fact that we sometimes ask them to prioritize work over family commitments,” adds Peters. “And it made me realize that the people who show up as a little square on a Teams call, there's a village behind them. A simple thank-you can be incredibly powerful.”
Peters is nearly 90 days in to her new role as CMO of Walgreens, and she takes a moment to reflect on that milestone.
“We’re in the midst of transformation and change, but I wake up every day so excited to be here because I see the opportunities we have to create a meaningful impact on the lives of our customers, patients and team members,” she says. “It’s why I’m thrilled to be a part of this team and organization. And I know there are many people at Walgreens who feel this way. To be able to surround myself with people who are equally as passionate, energized and committed as I am—it’s why my job feels less like a job and more like a purpose.”