Though Foulkes has been in this position for only 12 months, the group of veteran executives that she heads has been together for some time. Together, their impact on CVS/pharmacy — and on the chain drug industry — has been a formidable one. Most obviously, Foulkes has brought stability and leadership to an organization that is blessed with a deep pool of talented managers.
But the selection of Foulkes and her colleagues as CDR’s Retailers of the Year has more to do with their abilities and willingness to act on their beliefs than to any void at the top ranks of the drug chain.
Almost immediately, Foulkes has gained the confidence and support of her top management team, a group of 11 senior managers who collectively run the drug chain.
They include Scott Baker, executive vice president of retail operations; Josh Flum, senior vice president of retail pharmacy; Judy Sansone, senior vice president of merchandising; Hanley Wheeler, senior vice president of stores — west; Kevin Hourican, senior vice president of stores — east; Brian Tilzer, chief digital officer and senior vice president of digital initiatives; Kathy Jo Payette, senior vice president of human resources; Betsy Ferguson, senior vice president of legal affairs and assistant general counsel; Jeff Knudson, senior vice president of finance and retail controller; Raymond Auger, senior vice president of information technology; and Heidi Devlin, vice president of advertising.
Along the way, Foulkes has encouraged these senior executives to control their various domains more tightly, granting them more authority and asking them to take more responsibility for their decisions and actions.
The result has been a tightening of the drug chain’s objectives and simplification of the strategies for achieving them. So it is that CVS/pharmacy today has begun reemphasizing its core competencies, health and beauty care, while introducing and developing initiatives more closely attuned to patient outcomes than to sales figures. Along the way, the retailer’s MinuteClinic chain of immediate care health facilities has been brought forward as a key company component, and many of the Caremark attributes that relate to individual patients have been brought to bear on CVS/pharmacy’s health care businesses.
As a result, many of those health care businesses at the drug chain have been strengthened and more tightly aligned with CVS/caremark, providing the corporation with clear advantages over competing PBMs.
One result has been that CVS customers have access to more efficient and effective health care than they did before Foulkes was named CVS/pharmacy president. Perhaps more impressive, her team has launched a program designed to encourage employees to educate customers about how to utilize more effectively the options the retailer’s association with CVS/caremark enables.
Much of what Foulkes and her colleagues have accomplished during her first months as CVS/pharmacy president has involved getting the retailer’s employees to understand that CVS Health is much more than a drug chain.
“Our primary business is health care,” she said recently, “and our primary function is improving and maintaining the health care of our customers. To the credit of our employees, our customers have responded by utilizing the programs we offer.”
Then there’s the retailer’s recent decision to stop selling tobacco products. The decision was reached last winter, shortly after Foulkes was appointed to her new job. She was very much involved in the change in policy and the groundbreaking marketing program launched to coincide with the September date when cigarettes and other tobacco products disappeared from the shelves at CVS drug stores throughout the country.
As well, each of the executives comprising the CVS retail leadership team led their business unit’s successful execution of their respective responsibilities around the exit from the tobacco category, which was a complex, multilayered process.
The program, tied to renaming and remarketing the company, has emerged as among the most successful marketing efforts ever undertaken by a mass retailer in this country.
The program has sought, at once, to convey the message that CVS had stopped selling tobacco and to simultaneously tell its customers and potential customers that the drug chain was replacing tobacco with a variety of products and services designed both to reduce the effects of nicotine withdrawal and replace the customer’s emphasis on tobacco with a renewed determination for health care improvement.
Today, four months into the new program, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only has there been little negative feedback relating to the decision to stop selling tobacco — media coverage has been dramatically positive — but most customers have embraced the health care effort, giving those customers more reasons to shop CVS while providing a wider variety of merchandise and services for those customers to consider.
Through it all, it has been Foulkes’ influence on the CVS drug chain and the larger CVS Health corporation that has marked her first few months as CVS/pharmacy president. She has lost no time in motivating her colleagues and making an impact on the organization. Her days and weeks are crammed with a hefty business agenda. She travels extensively, mostly within the CVS empire, looking for opportunities to bolster the idea of CVS as a critical health care provider, encouraging in-store pharmacists to expand their professional role by emphasizing patient outcomes and, to that end, the advantages of utilizing the drug chain’s prescription programs to enhance their health.
Along the way, she has made MinuteClinic an integral part of her message and her program, encouraging the retailer’s employees to view the immediate care facilities, which will shortly top 1,000, as an integral part of CVS’ health care offer.
“I do a lot of quick daytrips in and out of markets and spend time listening to pharmacists as they tell us, for example, what we should be doing from a corporate perspective that would enhance the service they’re providing to their customers,” said Foulkes. “Then there’s nothing like seeing programs on the front-store side of the business that you envisioned from the office and how they really get executed, and where there’s room for growth and improvement.
“One of the leadership philosophies that I often share with people is this idea of outside thinking — getting new ideas from outside of the building, outside of ourselves. Some of that comes from doing store visits, not only to our own stores, but to competitors. But it’s also meeting with people who push your thinking. One of the challenges of a role like this is finding the time to push the envelope versus spending your time running the day-to-day with the business.”
The strength of the retail leadership team has given Foulkes that luxury, while she, in turn, has challenged its members to expand their field of vision, test new concepts and embrace a process of continuous improvement.
In short, Helena Foulkes has emerged as more than the person chosen as CVS/pharmacy’s president. She has become, in a very short period of time, the embodiment of the chief retail officer at one of America’s most important health care providers and the dynamic leader of an executive team performing at the top of its game.