Two fresh faces have emerged — or reemerged — on the chain drug scene this spring, each bringing a sense of excitement and innovation to an industry suddenly in need of both.

Bob Narveson, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Thrifty White, NACDS, A.G. Lafley, Procter & Gamble, P&G, chain drug retailing, drug chain, David Pinto

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Welcome Narveson, welcome back Lafley

June 17th, 2013
by David Pinto

Two fresh faces have emerged — or reemerged — on the chain drug scene this spring, each bringing a sense of excitement and innovation to an industry suddenly in need of both.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of their emergence is that each is a throwback to an earlier time, a period when innovation and creativity were perhaps more valued than is the case today.

The two are Bob Narveson, the new chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and A.G. Lafley, who reassumed, for the time being, the title of chief executive officer at Procter & Gamble that he relinquished several years ago. Each brings a new sense of energy and urgency to chain drug retailing, both grounded in a respect for an industry’s power too often taken for granted by many of its inhabitants.

First, about Narveson. It should be noted at the start that he is not a pharmacist. What is startling about this admission is the fact that he leads a drug chain, Minnesota-based Thrifty White, that is at the cutting edge where the retail practice of pharmacy is the issue. It occupies that position because Narveson understands the power and the role of pharmacy in a chain drug setting perhaps more acutely than many of his competitors.

As a result, Thrifty White offers its patients pharmacy programs based not on price or convenience but on professionalism. Indeed, the retailer vastly simplifies the often arduous process of understanding, respecting and collecting their medicines, reducing the monthly trips the patient must make to the local Thrifty White drug store even as it eliminates, or sharply reduces, the confusion that often surrounds the medication regimen, particularly for older citizens.

With this background, Narveson will bring to his NACDS assignment an emphasis on pharmacy, and on the chain drug store’s unique place in the retail pharmacy community, that is needed — and that has sometimes been overlooked in the past because more acute issues have emerged.

Along the way, Narveson will certainly provide local and regional drug chains with more leverage, and more of a voice, in an industry increasingly dominated by major mass retailers of all types. Again, this is needed — for the obvious but sometimes overlooked reason that larger retailers often dominate association agendas, simply because of their size.

Narveson, then, is rightly expected to exert a meaningful influence on chain drug retailing and, more particularly, on the industry’s pharmacy component. In the end, the industry will be better for this emphasis, if only because the future of chain drug retailing is closely tied to the future of retail pharmacy in a chain drug setting. Narveson, then, is clearly the right man at the right time to head up chain drug retailing in America.

Much the same can be said of A.G. Lafley. His tenure as chief executive officer of P&G is rightly viewed as among the most progressive and prosperous in that company’s 175-year history. Though he brought many skills to that job, the one he’s most admired for was his understanding and appreciation of the retailer’s role in the success of P&G’s products.

Moreover, in Lafley’s case this appreciation was not simply a business consideration. Rare among senior executives in the supplier community, Lafley truly enjoyed keeping company with the retail executives with whom his company did business. He often traveled to meet with them, routinely attended key industry meetings, took the lead in developing the Consumer Goods Forum, a global organization designed to address major issues confronting the global retail community in the first years of the 21st century. Sadly, Lafley’s absence from P&G has been accompanied by a decline in the fortunes of the Consumer Goods Forum.

Sadly as well, P&G itself lost momentum after Lafley retired. His successor apparently didn’t see in the retail community the opportunities Lafley saw. Though that void was filled by many senior P&G executives, most notably Melanie Healey, the company’s North American head, a lack of retailer appreciation at the top apparently made a difference for P&G. More to the point, this willingness to dismiss the retail segment as necessary but unimportant is a malady that affects senior management at all too many packaged goods companies these days — often to their own distress.

Now Lafley has returned — if only temporarily, or at least until a permanent CEO is named. No matter. His return should be appreciated for what it is — an opportunity for chain drug retailing to cooperate more closely, more willingly and more productively with the most significant packaged goods supplier with which it does business.

So saying, these words must be added: Welcome Bob Narveson; welcome back A.G. Lafley.