Inside This Issue - Opinion
Giancamilliís impressive, improbable career
February 27th, 2012
by David Pinto
Ending a 40-year career in retailing that has been as impressive in its diversity as it has been stunning in its achievements, Andy Giancamilli has stepped down as chief executive officer of Mississauga, Ontario-based Katz Drug.
Anyone who really cares about mass retailing in America knows of Giancamilli, his travels, his accomplishments and his impact. A handful, the truly lucky ones, have known him personally. Those who fall into neither category can’t realistically be viewed as serious students of the industry they serve.
For the uninitiated, at various times in his business career Giancamilli, a pharmacist by training and a retailer by instinct, was president and chief operating officer at Perry Drug Stores, the Detroit-based chain ultimately acquired by Rite Aid; president and general merchandise manager at Kmart, the storied discount retailer that was once a serious competitor to Walmart as both retailers vied for sales leadership in America; a senior executive at Canadian Tire, the general merchandise retailer whose unique structure Giancamilli was instrumental in perpetuating; and chief executive at Katz Drug, Canada’s No. 2 drug chain, where he created one of the most innovative drug store formats the industry has seen in this century.
Along the way, this exceptional retailing executive found the time to contribute to the chain drug retailing community in ways too numerous to recount here. Most significantly, he served from 2008 to 2010 as chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, where he has been a board member for a total of 15 years. Then, too, it must be noted that he played a critical role in the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores during those years when Canada’s drug chains were battling various governmental agencies over pharmacy reimbursement levels.
That’s the resume. Beyond it were game-changing accomplishments. Jack Robinson, the founder of Perry Drug Stores and the individual who was among the first to recognize and reward Giancamilli’s ability, once told a friend that naming him Perry’s COO was “the best business decision I ever made.”
Joining Kmart at a crucial period in that retailer’s history, Giancamilli went on to introduce programs that temporarily revived both the company’s business and its fortunes and delayed its ultimate downfall. As Katz’s CEO he brought visibility and prominence to a drug chain that had for long been a distant No. 2 to Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada.
At his departure earlier this year, Katz had become a serious competitor to SDM, a viable alternative for Canadian consumers who had long, and correctly, viewed SDM as the only chain drug game in town.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable in all this is that Giancamilli is a first-generation American, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States as a child and went on to live the American dream, the idea that if you work hard something good just might happen.
Equally astonishing is the possibility that his success in retailing was merely a family footnote to the contributions of his wife, the Wonderful Wanda, an Italian immigrant (they met in America) who, again through a belief in diligence, hard work and an acute grasp of the possibilities America had to offer, became a successful and much-admired attorney. Along the way she reached the rarified atmosphere that the chain drug community only occasionally allows, becoming a woman as much appreciated and admired as her more visible husband.
Despite her considerable success practicing law in Detroit, however, when Andy’s career took him to Canada, Wanda didn’t have to think twice about coming along. Supporting his career was, after all, her primary vocation.
Then there are Giancamilli’s friends, whom he reckons by the dozens. As one modest example, when he was recognized, yet again, in New York City earlier this month, the host of the event asked Tony Civello, the CEO of Kerr Drug, to come to New York to say a few words about his friend. Despite the fact that Civello had to be in Washington, D.C., the following day to testify before a government agency on behalf of NACDS, Kerr’s CEO journeyed from Raleigh, N.C., for the occasion. Moreover, to quote Giancamilli, “for once he out-dressed me.”
Civello’s gesture and commitment perhaps say more about Giancamilli than his resume, impressive as it is, can possibly indicate.
Mass retailing has boasted many interesting careers, some marked by considerable accomplishment. What most have in common, however, is that those careers generally revolved around a single retailer and a single set of achievements.
What made Andy Giancamilli’s career more improbable and more impressive was the breadth of its retailing and geographic framework. His considerable achievements were not restricted to one retailer or even one country. He influenced every company lucky enough to employ him. And the uncounted thousands of people who, directly or indirectly, worked for him were themselves changed by his programs, his personality, his influence and his many kindnesses.
In ways too numerous to enumerate, mass retailing is all the richer for Andy Giancamilli’s presence, participation and impact.