Inside This Issue - Opinion
Sammonsí work deserves recognition
April 26th, 2010
by David Pinto
The Annual Meeting of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores now under way in Palm Beach, Fla., is the last that Rite Aid Corp. chief executive officer Mary Sammons will attend in that capacity.
Though she plans to remain with Rite Aid as chairman for the next two years — and will no doubt attend future NACDS Annual Meetings in that role — her position in the chain drug industry will doubtless be diminished as John Standley, the retailer’s CEO-in-waiting, becomes more active in the industry’s trade association.
So now is probably an appropriate time to acknowledge Sammons’ considerable contributions both to the drug store chain she has headed for the past seven years and to the association she led as chairman for two years earlier in this decade.
It would be difficult to exaggerate what Sammons has meant both to Rite Aid and to the chain drug industry. Never mind that she was the first woman to head a major drug chain — Sammons is particularly vocal in her insistence on downplaying that distinction. Her contributions transcend gender — just as they have surpassed those of all but a handful of legendary chain drug industry leaders.
Sammons came to Rite Aid in 1999 with Bob Miller, who had signed on as Rite Aid’s CEO, after a retail career at Portland, Ore.-based Fred Meyer Inc., a food and general merchandise retailer that had little more than a nodding acquaintance with health care. She arrived at a time when the drug chain was on the brink of extinction, the victim of mismanagement and illegal business practices. As a result of these problems, Rite Aid was a distant third to Walgreen Co. and CVS Corp. in terms of sales, while trailing the leading regional drug chain in many of its markets.
Over the next few years, several of them spent on the brink of collapse, Rite Aid survived — thanks primarily to Sammons’ brilliant leadership. Her style combined decisiveness, innovative thinking and a willingness to lead. In addition, she had the ability to gain Miller’s trust on the one hand and the respect of her staff and subordinates on the other. Rounding out Sammons’ portfolio of strengths was a reputation, quickly established and ultimately assuming legendary proportions, as a tireless worker.
Sammons spruced up Rite Aid’s stores and image, lobbied for and approved the development of a new Rite Aid prototype, and led the initiative that resulted in the 2007 acquisition of the Brooks Eckerd Pharmacy chain, one of the largest in the industry’s history.
Along the way, she strengthened the retailer’s senior management ranks, sharpened the chain’s merchandising and marketing programs, galvanized employees and brought a new level of confidence and self-esteem to a retail staff that had become disillusioned, discouraged and defeatist.
During these crucial years, Sammons, who had joined the NACDS board in 2000, found time to serve a term as the association’s chairman. Today, her tenure at NACDS is recognized and remembered as a particularly proactive time for the association, a period during which the organization’s board first began to question NACDS’ direction and positions and the quality of the association’s leadership, a critical exercise that ultimately led to the appointment of Steve Anderson as NACDS president and chief executive officer.
This brief summary can’t begin to do justice to Sammons, her leadership, her intelligence, her personality, her ability to engender loyalty in her subordinates, her capacity to work for the benefit of others and her myriad contributions to the drug chain she has led and the industry she has served.
As her career winds down, she has had time to ponder her accomplishments. Assessing her legacy as a leader recently, she had this to say: “Some people would define success as holding different titles and getting different promotions. But I think it is much better for a leader to be known for the improvements she or he brings to an organization, for the projects that make others stand up and take notice, and for how she or he had mentored others.” It is an accurate description of what she has accomplished.
The chain drug industry has long recognized Mary Sammons for what she has done, what she has represented and what she has meant to the chain drug community. As she begins to withdraw from the company she served so capably for so long, the hope here is that the industry will continue to take advantage of her considerable skills in whatever capacity they become available. She is simply too valuable an asset to be allowed to become yesterday’s news.