Inside This Issue - Opinion
Cosby gets off to impressive start at CVS
March 26th, 2012
by David Pinto
Whatever aspirations CVS Caremark entertained in hiring former Macy’s executive Mark Cosby as president of the company’s drug store unit, they appear, even at this early date, to have been both justified and exceeded.
In six months as CVS president, Cosby has proven himself a knowledgeable and confident retailer, a quick study, an executive who prefers listening to talking, and an individual who is neither afraid of change nor shy about formulating his ideas and expressing his opinions regarding change.
Earlier this month Cosby and CVS Caremark CEO Larry Merlo co-hosted a lunch in Providence, R.I., for some 30 supplier executives. The audience consisted primarily of front-end suppliers, the majority of them representing health and beauty care companies. Cosby spoke briefly about his impressive business career, dwelling at some length on his experience at Macy’s and telling his audience that he had had no intention of leaving the department store retailer until a search firm representing CVS made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Then he spoke about his brief tenure at CVS, discussing his immersion in all aspects of the drug chain’s business and dwelling on the people at all levels within CVS with whom he had, at his own request, come into contact. From there, he went on to outline some of the areas that the retailer will emphasize going forward. He particularly emphasized the need to update the company’s front- and back-end functions, noting the need for updating supply chain efficiency, adding elements to the retailer’s ExtraCare loyalty program, sharpening the in-store presentation, and planning for the next store design iteration, adding that the CVS drug store had not changed in a decade.
Though he said that he would get peripherally involved with merchandise decisions, he insisted that that involvement would not be of a hands-on nature but rather that the retailer’s merchants, whom he warmly praised, would continue to function much as they have in the past. He dwelled at some length on the need to get more productivity from in-store end-caps. And he repeatedly requested that the suppliers in the room furnish the company with new ideas, new approaches to merchandising and promotional activity, new products, and new experiences. Many retailers perfunctorily make this request of suppliers; with Cosby, you believed the request was genuine.
Finally, Cosby opened the floor to questions, without limiting either the subject matter or the scope of the agenda. Most of the questions, not surprisingly, concerned merchandise and merchandising, not operations, which had been Cosby’s niche at both Macy’s and Sears, his previous employers. To his credit, the new CVS president never faltered, never equivocated, never fumbled or stumbled.
Asked about the retailer’s obsession with private label, a favorite criticism among suppliers, Cosby said that, yes, that emphasis would remain going forward, because of the profit involved, but not at the expense of branded merchandise. Questioned about pharmacy, a subject he knew little about as recently as last fall, he spoke easily and knowledgeably about the current battle between Walgreens and Express Scripts and the resulting benefit to CVS’ pharmacy business. Along the way he informed suppliers of the challenge the retailer would face in the need to increase front-end inventories to accommodate the uptick in customers and he expressed confidence that the supplier community would provide additional inventory as needed.
As the event ended Cosby was warmly applauded by his audience and praised by individual attendees. As they departed, various guests were particularly complimentary about Cosby the man, speaking of his warmth, his easygoing manner, his willingness and ability to field even the most thought-provoking questions. The new president announced that he would indeed be attending the NACDS Annual Meeting in Palm Beach next month, and was willing, even eager, to meet with suppliers to discuss their role in the retailer’s plans and programs going forward.
Here again, many retailers make this claim, only to renege at the 11th hour. With Mark Cosby, you somehow knew he would be on hand to meet new people and listen to new ideas. Just as you knew that Mark Cosby was going to be someone special.