Inside This Issue - Opinion
A fixed point disappears at Walgreens
November 25th, 2013
by David Pinto
After 43 years with Walgreen Co. — he began working for the Deerfield, Ill.-based, 8,100-store drug chain in 1970, when Walgreens, then located on Peterson Avenue in northern Chicago, operated some 550 drug stores — Steve Lubin has accepted a retirement package, leaving the company he has been so large a part of for so long.
At 62, Lubin leaves an industry he joined at the age of 19, when billion-dollar drug chains were still a dream industry leaders pursued, and names like Thrifty Drug Stores, Skaggs Drug Centers, Revco D.S. and Eckerd Drug vied with Walgreens for leadership in the industry.
The 1970s was the decade when Vern Brunner burst on the retail drug store scene, making a name for himself by expanding the definition of merchant. That was the decade Cork Walgreen succeeded his father as chief executive officer of Walgreens, bringing with him a dramatic transformation that would once again catapult the retailer to the top ranks of chain drug retailing. It was the decade that brought Fred Canning to the attention of chain drug industry people, when Cork Walgreen tapped him for the presidency of the Walgreens drug chain.
And it was the decade that Steve Lubin first began making a contribution to Walgreens, one which, in 2013, cannot be overestimated or overvalued.
During his Walgreens career he has capably filled more roles than perhaps any individual in the company’s 112-year history. He has served as a merchant, most notably in the beauty care category. He has run Walgreens’ beauty accessories program. He led Walgreens’ entry into Puerto Rico — spending three years on that island — as well as into Alaska and Hawaii. He has been a friend and confidant of suppliers who first came to know him as a merchant, then continued their relationship on a more personal level as Lubin moved on to new assignments.
During a transitionary period for Walgreens, Lubin was a fixed point, a beacon that assured members of the chain drug community that Walgreens, despite numerous changes and a series of dramatically charted new directions, was still Walgreens.
Despite this impressive resume and even more impressive list of successes, the feeling as Lubin retires is, overwhelmingly, one of sadness. He was a fixed point in a changing chain drug universe, a merchant who could always be counted on to deliver, a marketer who successfully brought Walgreens into the farthest outposts of its current geography. If Steve Lubin could be allowed to walk away, no one in chain drug retailing is really safe.
As Lubin departs, questions arise. Why now? What’s next? And what about Lubin? Sixty-two is hardly the onset of old age, as it was a generation ago. Certainly he looks the same, acts the same and performs as he did a decade or two ago. It would be unfortunate if this industry allowed him to walk away, armed as he is with 43 years of knowledge and experience, ingrained in him by some of the ablest teachers in mass retailing.
But thus far — and it’s early yet — he’s given no indication as to what he would like to do and for whom he would like to do it. It seems fairly certain that Walgreens would not encourage him to join a competitor. That leaves relatively few options for an individual schooled in retailing and merchandising.
But that’s for another day. For now, suffice it to say that Steve Lubin is leaving the only career he’s ever practiced — and the chain drug industry, despite becoming accustomed to such departures, can ill afford to watch many more people like Lubin leave a business that is even now woefully short of superior merchants.