Inside This Issue - Opinion
Dramatic changes energize Walgreens
October 28th, 2013
by David Pinto
Not often does change disrupt the orderly nature of things in chain drug retailing to the degree that the recent personnel shifts at Walgreens have altered both the personnel roster at that drug chain and the priorities of the many constituencies with which the retailer interacts.
Earlier this month Walgreens confirmed a series of high-level changes in its merchandising and marketing departments that elevate several longtime staffers to positions of new authority while introducing some new faces to the industry. It’s safe to say that so dramatic a series of personnel moves is unprecedented in the annals of chain drug retailing, an industry, it should be noted, not generally known for creating new personnel assignments on more than a once-in-a-while basis.
The catalyst for this stunning realignment was the announcement late last summer that Alex Gourlay, the executive in charge of the Boots drug chain in the United Kingdom and outlying vicinities, would be moving to Chicago to head up Walgreens’ merchandising and marketing functions. Unprecedented as this decision was, it opened the door to a variety of equally stunning personnel shifts, the result of which has been to recast the front-end activities at America’s largest drug chain.
Even now, after these changes have been announced, it’s difficult to determine who will be doing what and just who reports to whom. One thing is clear at the start, however: Alex Gourlay, overnight, has emerged as a major chain drug industry presence. In the main, he has dictated these shifts.
Just as clearly, this new merchandising organization is delighted that Gourlay will head it. Though new to most Walgreens people, he has already earned a reputation for both his retailing knowledge and his unassuming ability to relate to people.
A third point can accurately be made here: Though it’s difficult to classify as a promotion an assignment that removes an individual from the job as a chief executive officer — which, in fact, is what Gourlay was at Boots — Gourlay’s transfer from Nottingham to Chicago is clearly a promotion. More than that, he now joins a handful of executives atop the chain drug industry.
As to the people Gourlay has chosen to surround himself with, some are well known in chain drug circles. Neither Shannon Curtin nor Robert Tompkins, responsible for beauty care and health care, respectively, are new to the industry or to Walgreens. Rather, both are proven professionals who know their way around their respective areas of responsibility.
Moe Alkemade is less well known, though in many respects his new duties, which involve consumables, sundries and seasonal products, are as critical to the retailer’s future as those of any executive in the realignment.
The management layer directly beneath the previously noted trio collectively furnishes Walgreens with a competence level that is unsurpassed in chain drug retailing. Beth Stiller has emerged in a brief time at Walgreens — she came from Canada, brought here by Joe Magnacca — as a hugely respected retailing executive and one who has quickly emerged as one of the people at Walgreens who both competitors and suppliers have come to respect and admire.
Paul Tiberio, similarly, brings an immaculate reputation to his new job, one earned both at Duane Reade and at Walgreens — and previously in the grocery industry. Much the same can be said for Rachael Bishop. Though less well known, Jim Jensen has, in a short time period, come to earn the respect of the industry people with whom he has come into contact as he has assembled a grocery presentation at Walgreens that is even now the envy of the industry.
Adam Holyk and Graham Atkinson are largely unknown in chain drug circles, but they will each play significant roles at Walgreens in the months ahead and will quickly become pivotal members of the retailer’s merchandising team.
It would be both difficult and unfair to omit from any description of Walgreens’ new merchandising alignment a few words about Bryan Pugh, the senior executive who, overnight, has swapped his merchandising duties for a critical operational role.
In the months since Joe Magnacca, formerly Walgreens‘ chief customer officer, departed to join RadioShack as that retailer’s chief executive, no one at Walgreens, except possibly Mark Wagner, the retailer’s president of operations and community management, has been as critical as Pugh in minimizing the impact of Magnacca’s departure. He stabilized a situation that might have gotten out of hand while convincing the supplier community that no individual is as important to a corporation as a well-organized team of merchants.
Moreover, he has repeatedly reached out to individual suppliers to reassure them that it would be business as usual at Walgreens. Which, indeed, it has been. Pugh’s contributions will be no less significant in his new role.