Onetime IBM programmer finds pharmacy is his calling
ONALASKA, Wis. — CVS pharmacy manager Adam Matz didn’t begin his career at a drug store. In fact, he didn’t even begin it in pharmacy.
Matz, 39, manages the CVS Pharmacy at the Target store in Onalaska, a suburb just north of La Crosse, Wis. He had been a Target pharmacy manager for about seven years — and with Target for roughly 13 years overall as a pharmacist and pharmacy intern — before becoming a CVS employee in December, when CVS Health closed its $1.9 billion acquisition of Target Corp.’s pharmacy and clinic business.
It was at much different company, though, where Matz got his start: IBM.
“I had kind of a circuitous path to pharmacy. I actually started my career as a software engineer with IBM in Rochester, Minn. I had my initial undergraduate degree in math and computer science. I really enjoyed my time there, had a lot of great opportunities and was on a good career path. But I just felt like something was lacking,” he explains. “Reflecting back now, I think what I was missing was that day-to-day interpersonal communication and interaction with people. I still love computers. But sitting in front of a computer or in a cubicle all day just wasn’t self-fulfilling.”
After nearly three years as a programmer at IBM, Matz taught briefly at the University of Minnesota as he pursued a Ph.D. “But then I did probably what I should have done in high school. I did a vocational search and job-shadowed and asked friends and peers questions,” he says. “I looked at medicine and a few other careers, but pharmacy — especially retail pharmacy — really seemed to appeal to me.”
So in 2003 Matz, who had earned his B.A. at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, went back to school at the Drake University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Des Moines. “I was a nontraditional student,” he says, “the old guy on campus.” He got his Pharm.D. from Drake in 2008.
“I got my degree and started my pharmacy career with Target and never really looked back,” says Matz.
“I love retail pharmacy. For me, it really does fulfill that need to interact with people,” he notes. “Every single day, I have literally hundreds of these little interactions. Wisconsin is a mandatory consult state, so everybody that walks through that door, I’m talking to them. And I love that. It gives me an opportunity to try to give my best to each person every day. And for my team — the pharmacy technicians and other pharmacists — it allows me to do as much as I can to help them be successful as well.”
Matz started at Target as a pharmacist after earning his degree and became a pharmacy manager at the Onalaska store in July 2008. “This store was probably the most challenging assignment they had given me. At the time, the store was struggling,” he says. “Since I was interested in moving to the area and had the potential for promotion, I took that over and was able to help turn the pharmacy around and develop a pretty good team in the nearly three years I was there.”
Then Target offered Matz a promotion to district pharmacy manager in Chicago. He began in that role in May 2011 and served in the post for almost two years. “I really enjoyed it, and we were talking about potentially relocating again when I had some medical issues come up with my son. That’s when I had to step back down,” Matz says. He returned to the Onalaska Target store as pharmacy manager in November 2012.
Matz credits that leadership experience with helping to advance his professional development. “Target, and CVS, are both so focused on leadership development. I think that’s helped me not just at work but at home and in the community. I had a great time at Target and still have a lot of relationships with the people and leaders there. But I’ve been really impressed with CVS and its corporate structure and leadership development as well.”
Likewise, CVS has been impressed with Matz. In early September, he was presented with a National Paragon Award at the CVS Health Retail Leadership Conference in Orlando, Fla. The Paragon Awards, which recognize the best of the best CVS Health colleagues, are the the company’s highest honor.
CVS Pharmacy opened at the Onalaska Target store in May. “The transition has gone as well as anyone could expect,” Matz says of the switch, which involved not just the physical creation of the CVS store-within-a-store department but also the changeover to a new pharmacy system and work flow. “I’m very excited to be working for a company that has this much experience in pharmacy and whose primary focus is on pharmacy.”
And the inception of CVS appears to have made its mark at the store, according to Matz. “Our patient population is growing. That’s been a huge success at our store. We have a couple of large employers in the area that are CVS Caremark clients, and we’re pulling in more people every single day.”
When asked what’s different about working as a pharmacist in a mass retail location versus a drug store, CVS pharmacy manager Adam Matz cited the base of customers. “The biggest difference in working in a large retail setting is that you really never know what you’re going to get on a day-to-day basis,” Matz says. “Pretty much everyone who comes through your door at a drug store is looking for prescriptions, over-the-counter medications or medical advice. At a Target store, you’re pulling in everybody from every walk of life and every question that they have.”
For Matz, however, those situations with customers are the real treat. “One of the things I enjoy — and I know that some of my peers struggle with this at times — is that you get the most random, out-of-left-field questions in that environment,” he says. “Personally, I view that as an opportunity.”
Target customers are liking what they see with CVS, he says. “The most rewarding thing for me is that if you look at our customer survey-type data, people feel like they’ve found a new pharmacy and are very excited to be coming to our store. So that makes me feel like we’re doing something right, if we’re growing and have gone through this transition and are still making people feel happy.”
Much of that reflects the dedication of Matz and his pharmacy team, in whom he tries to instill a customer-first approach — which starts, he says, by finding out what customers need.
“You have the opportunity to form relationships. If they get a prescription or a flu shot, great. But what I tell the team is that we’re here to help them no matter what,” Matz says. “That’s why we’re a trusted profession. That’s why people think so highly of their pharmacist, because we’re there to be available to the community.”