As the new year dawns, it’s not premature to recognize some of the chain drug store people who helped make 2011 memorable — or, at the least, not easily forgotten.

chain drug store, chain drug executives, chain drug industry, David Pinto, Greg Wasson, Walgreens, Larry Merlo, CVS Caremark, John Standley, Rite Aid, Joe Magnacca, Steve Anderson, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, NACDS, Kathleen Jaeger, Mark Griffin, Lewis Drug, George Bartell, Bartell Drugs, Mike Bloom, Family Dollar, Judy Sansonne, Bryan Pugh, Mark Wagner, Jim Whitman

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Chain drug executives who had a big impact in 2011

January 2nd, 2012
by David Pinto

As the new year dawns, it’s not premature to recognize some of the chain drug store people who helped make 2011 memorable — or, at the least, not easily forgotten.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 chain drug industry executives who made a big impact during 2011:

• Greg Wasson, Walgreens’ president and CEO. The year that ended last week was a truly remarkable one for Wasson, who emerged as one of the chain drug industry’s true leaders — and Chain Drug Review’s 2011 Chain Drug Retailer of the Year (along with Walgreens’ four senior managers). To learn what Wasson accomplished last year, you need to read the CDR Retailer of the Year feature, which begins on this issue’s front page. Suffice to say that Wasson’s leadership, which combined a strong hand with a willingness to allow his subordinates to make their own decisions — and their own mistakes — has propelled Walgreens to a position atop the chain drug industry, one it hasn’t enjoyed in some considerable time.

• Larry Merlo, CVS Caremark chairman and CEO. It has sometimes been said that the most difficult assignment in the annals of mass retailing fell to David Glass when, at the founder’s death in 1992, he had to succeed Sam Walton as chief executive officer at Walmart. Larry Merlo found himself in a somewhat similar situation earlier this year, when he followed Tom Ryan, who retired after 17 hugely productive years as CVS’ chief executive. Since then, he has acquitted himself brilliantly, even when confronted with adversity. As a drug chain, CVS is performing as well as it ever has, despite stronger competition from the likes of Walgreens. His decision to bring in an outsider, Mark Cosby, as president of the drug store unit has, despite initial skepticism from within the organization and criticism from people within the industry, considerably strengthened the drug chain’s senior management team. And Caremark, after six months of tinkering, has emerged as possibly America’s strongest pharmacy benefit manager.

• John Standley, Rite Aid’s chief executive. Contrary to most predictions, Rite Aid is today stronger and more focused than it has been in this century. Standley has given the drug chain new strength, new purpose and a new lease on life, all of which revolve around health and wellness. He has also instilled in Rite Aid’s personnel a belief in themselves, something that, according to people within the organization, had apparently alluded his predecessor, despite all her achievements as head of the drug chain. Finally, Standley appears to be accomplishing that most elusive of all goals: bringing customers and sales to a drug chain that, for all its attempts, had long failed to do either.

• Joe Magnacca, Walgreens’ president of daily living products and solutions. As with Greg Wasson, Magnacca’s achievements can best be understood by glancing at this publication’s Retailer of the Year package of features elsewhere in this issue. Indeed, Magnacca has accomplished much during his first year at Walgreens. But none of his achievements stand out so boldly as his ability to join an organization known for its inbreeding; gain immediate admittance, acceptance and respect; and help lead one of the most remarkable transformations chain drug retailing has seen.

• Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Under Anderson’s low-key but effective leadership, NACDS last year solidified its position as the most exciting, progressive and proactive trade association serving the mass retailing community. His year-end selection of Kathleen Jaeger as senior vice president of pharmacy care and patient advocacy and head of the association’s foundation was but the icing on the cake during a year in which the organization boldly and imaginatively restructured its meetings agenda, strengthened its government affairs initiative, and brought its retail and supplier membership in closer and more productive contact with each other.

• Mark Griffin and George Bartell, CEOs of Lewis Drug and Bartell Drugs, respectively. These two executives are grouped together in this space because they are currently heading the most innovative and exciting regional drug chains in the United States. If you doubt that, you need only visit the newest stores each chain has launched — one late in 2010, the other last year — to resolve those doubts. Indeed, Griffin and Bartell have proved, once and for all, that a strong regional drug chain can effectively compete with any retailer in the country.

• Mike Bloom, president of Family Dollar. Bloom is included in this summary for two reasons: His chain drug background — he was, until last fall, CVS’ chief merchant — and the impact he is beginning to exert on his new company. His departure from CVS and arrival at Family Dollar confirm that old but sometimes disputed adage: A strong chain drug executive can make a difference anywhere. His loss to CVS will quickly be overcome by an organization deep in talent. The gain to Family Dollar, which has the potential to be sweeping in its opportunity for change, is only now beginning to take hold.

As for the remaining two on this list of 10, here are several nominees:

• Judy Sansonne, who is poised to make a difference as CVS' head merchant.

• Bryan Pugh, Walgreens’ vice president of merchandising, who has emerged as one of the brightest merchants in chain drug retailing.

• Mark Wagner, Walgreens’ president of community management, who has rounded out his portfolio in a brilliant and innovative way by coming to understand and appreciate the contribution that merchants make to his company’s success (see CDR’s Retailer of the Year feature).

• Jim Whitman. NACDS’ senior vice president of member programs and services, who, after 33 years with the association, continues to grow in his job and hone his considerable abilities while finding new and innovative ways of engaging the organization’s membership.