Inside This Issue - Opinion
Tom Ryan: An example for others to follow
June 6th, 2011
by David Kronrad
Reading Chain Drug Review’s report “CVS — The Ryan Years” [in the May 23 issue] brought to mind an occasion five years ago when my wife and I, with our children in tow, set off one evening for a welcoming reception at the NACDS Annual Meeting.
We were arriving early, but not for professional reasons. After all, this was the post-consolidation era. The welcoming reception was a place to see old friends on our side, the supplier side. It was not a time to see retailers, who were outnumbered and mostly getting ready for private functions.
No, we were early because with two small children we knew it had to be an early night. We almost had the room to ourselves, and our kids were pacing themselves through the various buffet stations joyously. We were the only ones there at that time, save for a few well- placed NACDS staff members ready to meet the needs of their arriving guests.
Who arrived just after we did was a surprise. It was a surprise not only for the fact that they were there, but because Tom and Cathy Ryan didn’t have to be there. They certainly didn’t have to be there early.
After more than a decade at the helm of CVS, Tom especially didn’t need to spend time at a reception to welcome fellow attendees. He didn’t need to be setting the example for an industry to follow. After all, he was at the pinnacle. No, he was the pinnacle. But that is, was and always will be Tom Ryan.
Fast-forward to May 10, 2011. It was the night before Tom’s last duty for CVS Caremark as chairman of the board, the night before his last annual shareholders meeting. As we sat talking about CVS then and CVS now, I paused and said, “Tom, I am really going to miss sitting and talking with you on these quiet nights in Providence.”
With hardly a pause he replied, “I am retiring from CVS, I’m not retiring from life. I’ll be here.” And that is Tom Ryan.
Tom has always been the person that people have aspired to be like. As he had shown during his amazing run as chairman, president and chief executive officer of CVS, he had always set the example for others to follow. And as he took his final bow as CVS’ chairman and prepared to pass the gavel, he again set the example for the rest of us to follow.
Tom is not running away from CVS. He is running toward the rest of his life. He is doing so at a time when CVS is at its best, with a phenomenal executive team, a solid board and a new chairman. He is leaving having put all of the pieces in place to assure himself of the comfort that what he built will continue to grow —not just for his own peace of mind but because of his true caring for the thousands of people who are still there.
What is the legacy that Tom Ryan leaves behind? A company that was doing just over $4 billion when he took the helm as CEO and is now a $100 billion company with more than 7,000 stores. Strategic acquisitions made on his watch created a comprehensive health care provider poised for growth as our population ages.
New CEO and president in Larry Merlo was personally mentored by Tom, and Larry can not only carry on a legacy but also preserve what many would argue is the finest corporate culture in America today. Tom left the company without leaving a void, which is almost unprecedented in this day and age.
With Tom as an industry icon, the chain drug field had its finest representative and strongest advocate. A person who saw the big picture as CVS’ leader, he recognized the need to have a strong industry, not just a strong company. As NACDS chairman, he played a significant role in moving the organization forward and preserving our finest advocates in Washington, D.C.
Some would say that the legacy that has been Tom Ryan’s career is the stuff that legends and stories come from. When he was a pharmacy intern for CVS Tom’s leadership skills were spotted by company founder Stanley Goldstein, and his career began a steady but rapid ascent.
Tom was a person who never seemed to do or say the wrong thing and always had the ability to talk to anybody about any topic, whether it was Henry Kissinger or an elderly CVS customer. A person who genuinely cared for those around him and who wanted to make the world a better place. Poised under the most unnerving circumstances. Many more right decisions than wrong ones. Always letting you know that he is a human being.
So the big question remains: What’s next for Tom Ryan? That cannot be answered so soon. As the bittersweet feelings of leaving CVS after more than 30 years fade into fond memories the answers will come.
I would like to think that Tom will go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do — whether it be waking up everyday to play golf before heading to lunch with Cathy or seeing whichever of the few places he has not yet seen in this world. But I think the answer is more than that. I think Tom Ryan will go where he needs to go. And I think we will be seeing Tom Ryan around again.
As we talked that evening in Palm Beach — Tom and Cathy with my family still virtually alone in the ballroom — we joked with my 2-year-old son (whose name happens to be Ryan) that this was the man we named him after. A year later at the same event while walking through the lobby of The Breakers my son asked me if we would see the man he was named after again. I put my arm around him and said, “We were only kidding about that. He is not the man we named you after. He is just the man we want you to grow up to be like.”
And that is Tom Ryan.
Editor's Note: David Kronrad is president of Beurer North America LP.