Rebecca McKillican doesn’t back away from a challenge. Over the past 15 years, she’s been a consultant to several large brands, graduated from one of the world’s most prestigious MBA programs and turned around an e-commerce platform before her child was barely out of diapers.

But in 2020, she started on her biggest challenge yet: CEO of McKesson Canada, the domestic division of a multinational health-care company, which owns more than 400 Rexall pharmacies, and a network of independent pharmacies, including I.D.A., Guardian and Remedy’sRx.

McKillican took on the CEO role six months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, which put her, and her 12,000 employees, on the front lines against the disease. Under her leadership, McKesson pivoted from being a primarily behind-the-scenes drug distributor to playing an important role in protecting Canadians’ health.

Apart from managing the pharmaceutical supply chain for critical medications, McKesson helped co-ordinate government efforts to administer COVID-19 tests in pharmacies and roll out millions of vaccines.

“The pandemic really highlighted the importance of relationships, leadership, focus and communication,” she says. “It’s made us as a company stronger across every dimension, whether it was operations, public relations, speed and agility or creativity.”

While it was certainly interesting for her to be in charge of such a large health-care operation during the largest health-care crisis in a century, being a CEO was never her endgame. “Did I say to myself, ‘I want that job title’? No, I didn’t. I said to myself, this is the type of work I feel is impactful,” she says. “That’s been my guiding light and I’m proud to say I’ve been able to do that throughout my career journey in different areas.”


McKillican, who is from London, Ont., and received her bachelor of engineering at Western University, always had a passion for technology and especially how it can be used to make life easier for people. But it was during her first role as a business analyst at McKinsey and Company that she saw how technology could improve the customer experience.

“Technology isn’t something that stands on its own on the side,” she explains. “It is a medium that is part and parcel to the experience we deliver to our customers and to our employees.”

It was also at Mckinsey where she learned some valuable lessons that still hold true in her role today.

“I learned that strategy is easy, execution is hard,” she says. “You need to care about the details and the people that go behind that strategy.”

In her quest to get better at both, McKillican enrolled in an MBA program at Harvard Business School, which she completed in 2007. Now living in New York City, she joined Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts & Co. (KKR), a well-known private equity company, as a principal, working with all types of operations in a variety of sectors. It was there she first got a taste of what it felt like to help organizations make a positive impact on their communities.

“I worked directly with Dollar General helping people access products at an affordable price,” she says. “I looked at things like how can you drive improved merchandising or create private brand programs to bring more affordable products to people across the U.S.?”

Her time at KKR also showed her how to get results.

“I learned how to maniacally focus on and prioritize the things that matter most,” she says, “and push them forward fast and deliver value to the people and communities in which you operate.”


In 2012, McKillican gave birth to her first child, a daughter, and took time off work. Like a lot of new mothers – she now has two daughters, ages 10 and 6, and a son aged 8 – though less so back then, she ordered everything online.

“I looked at how much time I saved using e-commerce with a young child in Manhattan, coming home and picking up my parcels as I went up to my apartment,” she says.

A few months later she and her American husband decided to return to Canada, and became aware of a huge opportunity to bring U.S.-style e-commerce north.

“I saw that a similar experience wasn’t available here, shockingly, in 2012,” she says. “I knew there was an opportunity to improve people’s lives by giving them back time and making access to products easier.”

McKillican was already an avid user of, an increasingly popular e-commerce retailer that specializes in health, beauty, baby and home products, among other items, when she joined the company as a part-time category manager, but it didn’t take long before she was noticed.

Less than a year after joining the company the board of directors asked if she would consider taking over for the outgoing CEO. Given that making people’s lives easier through technology was already a passion, as was providing a great employee experience, she jumped at the opportunity.

Within her first year, McKillican grew sales by 40 per cent. Over that same period, McKesson Canada became one of their key suppliers, which opened the door for her to become president of McKesson’s retail operations in 2019, two years after the health-care company acquired

While the opportunity to run such a large operation could have been daunting, McKillican saw it as a prime chance to do what she loves to do best: help others, including the many people who now called her boss.

“As CEO you don’t do much,” she says. “It’s always the people each and every day that make up the organization that make it happen. My goal is to truly enable them to do their best work each and every day. How can I create an environment that supports that, whether it’s ensuring there’s a common understanding of key priorities or there’s a safe environment where we can get the contributions of everyone without roadblocks?”

“My role as a leader,” she adds, “is to remove friction from the highway that the organization is travelling on to ensure that everyone is moving as fast as they can.”


Listening to her employees’ challenges, amplifying their voices and making McKesson a more inclusive workplace are all key elements of McKillican’s leadership style. Part of that stems from her awareness of her own good fortune.

“I feel privileged I’ve never felt the inability to be successful by showing who I truly was in my career, and I want to continue to emulate that as I go forward,” she says, adding she was lucky to be surrounded by strong female mentors throughout her career.

But for McKillican, her work goes beyond women supporting other women. She underscores the importance of encouraging ethnically and racially diverse individuals and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community with whom she works.

“We all are made up of many different things, and creating an environment where everyone can be successful is really important,” she explains.

Ultimately, to become a top CEO and build a successful organization requires embracing your authentic self, not just at home but in the workplace, too.

“Stay true to yourself,” she says. “And don’t be afraid to take risks.”