Seldom has a new year in chain drug retailing dawned amid so many unanswered questions, so many fresh initiatives, so many high-stakes changes yet unresolved.

chain drug retailing, David Pinto, Walgreens, Joe Magnacca, Bryan Pugh, Mark Wagner, Moe Alkemade, Alex Gourlay, Boots, mass retailer, drug chain, Steve Lubin, Mark Cosby, CVS, Helena Foulkes, chain drug industry, Rite Aid, wellness+, Tony Montini, Tony Civello, Kerr Drug, Mike Bloom, Family Dollar, Mike Duke, Walmart, chain drug community

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Industry learns that a lot can change in a year

February 3rd, 2014
by David Pinto

Seldom has a new year in chain drug retailing dawned amid so many unanswered questions, so many fresh initiatives, so many high-stakes changes yet unresolved.

Some examples that readily come to mind include the following:

• Just 12 months ago, Walgreens’ middle- and senior-level management alignment appeared chiseled in stone: Joe Magnacca and Bryan Pugh atop the merchandising ranks, Mark Wagner heading operations, a merchandising staff that combined experience with intelligence. Today, just a year later, Magnacca is history, Pugh has a new job, the merchandising staff has been realigned, longtime veteran Steve Lubin has retired, Moe Alkemade has earned broader authority and responsibilities — and Alex Gourlay, formerly the head of the U.K.’s Boots drug chain, now firmly anchors Walgreens' senior management ranks.

Seldom has a mass retailer so significantly restructured its management team, especially a retailer whose future appears so limitless. Some of the changes were forced on Walgreens; others were dictated by changing circumstances and, more significantly, by a changing internal environment. Put another way, Walgreens today bears little resemblance to the drug chain that vied with CVS for market supremacy just three years ago. In this case, however, the changes that have overtaken Walgreens are difficult to take issue with. Put another way, it appears they have further strengthened an already imposing retailer. And the addition of Gourlay, it seems to us, is the icing on the cake.

• Just 12 months ago, Mark Cosby was president of the CVS drug chain, a position he had held since October 2011. Though he remained largely unknown in chain drug circles two years after his appointment, those people who had met him generally came away impressed with his retailing background, experience and knowledge, his eagerness to learn — and his future with CVS.

Today, a year later, Cosby is gone — and Helena Foulkes is CVS‘ new president. Unlike Alex Gourlay, Foulkes is a fixture in the chain drug industry, having spent 21 years at the Woonsocket, R.I.-based drug chain and having acquitted herself admirably in a variety of assignments. Still, none of those assignments had challenged her as fully as her new role promises to do. Even now, questions are being raised, not about her ability but about her qualifications to head a $64 billion business.

Those who know her best, however, are unconcerned. As is the case with Gourlay, Foulkes is a sure bet to correct the minor deficiencies at CVS that industry people have detected in recent months. In short, ­Foulkes is a breath of fresh air at a retail company that, like virtually every other, should always welcome a breath of fresh air.

• A year ago, the revival of Rite Aid was very much a work in progress, an initiative that had yet to prove itself. The wellness+ concept, sound on paper, was largely unproven as a vehicle to attract consumers. As well, the retailer’s senior managers remained largely unknown and untested in the chain drug community.

Today, a year later, Rite Aid is indisputably on solid footing. Its wellness+ initiative is working well, its senior managers are more comfortable in the chain drug community, its merchandising staff has won the respect of many in the supplier community, and Tony Montini has secured his place as a highly regarded senior merchant, on a par with any in chain drug retailing. With that list of accomplishments, it would be difficult to bet against Rite Aid going forward.

• A year ago, Tony Civello was at the epicenter of chain drug retailing in America, an executive every bit as important as the Kerr Drug chain he had headed so capably for so long.

Today, a year later, Kerr Drug is gone, having been acquired by Walgreens. So, too, is Civello, though he will surely emerge in another capacity. Still, a chain drug community without Tony Civello at its center is not as strong as one in which Civello plays a senior role. For many industry people he represented this industry in its most positive and most appealing ways. His departure as Kerr Drug CEO is, and always will be, the industry’s loss.

• A year ago Steve Lubin was an important Walgreens merchant, Mike Bloom was the president of Family Dollar, Mike Duke ran Walmart, Sears' landmark store in Chicago’s loop still had a future, as did Kmart.

Today, a year later …