MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — To hear Andy Giancamilli tell it, one of the surest avenues to success in business, as in life, is to be in the right place at the right time. Throughout the course of his 34-year career in community pharmacy and mass market retailing, the chief executive officer of Katz Group North America and current chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores has often found himself in such circumstances and consistently capitalized on them.
For his uncanny ability to recognize and make the most of opportunities to use his talents to elevate the fortunes of a diverse group of retailers, the editors of Chain Drug Review have given Giancamilli the publication’s Ronald L. Ziegler Lifetime Achievement Award. (The honor is named for the legendary executive who ran NACDS from 1988 to 1998.)
Giancamilli’s story is an inspiring one. Born on a farm near L’Aquila, Italy (site of a recent severe earthquake), he came to the United States as a five-year-old boy when he and his mother took everything they owned and crossed the Atlantic to join his father. Several year earlier, the elder Giancamilli had gone ahead of them, first to Canada, in search of a better life. The family was reunited in Detroit.
Growing up in a southern suburb of the city, Giancamilli gained his first exposure to retailing through a cousin who worked as a pharmacist at an independent drug store. “I would always look in the pharmacy and see these guys in white coats working away,” recalls Giancamilli about his experience stocking shelves at LSK Drug Mart while still in high school. “Customers would frequently come up to them and ask questions, and the pharmacists would spend time helping those people out. I thought to myself, what a wonderful thing to do — what a great profession.”
Motivated by his observations, he set about earning the necessary credentials, graduating from Wayne State University with a pharmacy degree in 1973. Giancamilli took a full-time job at another independent, Well Drugs, where he had started working two years earlier while attending college.
The store was owned by Mike Maslak, who became a role model. “He was a very tall man, white hair, always wore a white lab coat,” says Giancamilli. “He knew everyone by name and was the ultimate people person. He never really filled prescriptions; he made me do it. He would spend all his time with patients.
“He taught me all about what it means to maintain good customer relations.”
After two years there, Giancamilli moved to Perry Drug Stores, an emerging regional chain founded by Jack Robinson. “What led me to Perry was an article I read about a gentleman who had a different philosophy than most people about how to run pharmacies,” Giancamilli notes. “Back then Perry had big stores, over 8,000 square feet, with large H&BA departments and a lot of convenience food and beverages — all the elements of a modern drug store. At the time, that approach was not very common.”
After working as a pharmacist for three years, he took on the dual responsibilities of pharmacist/store manager. Giancamilli characterizes the transition as the toughest of his career.
“I had an assistant pharmacist and what was called a floor manager who handled the front end of the store, but ultimately I was responsible for everything,” he says. “That was the only time that I lost sleep over moving up the ladder because I went from being a pharmacist focused on what he was trained to do professionally to being a businessman who had to manage people and be accountable for financial results.”
Giancamilli needn’t have worried. He was given the chance to open the first 24-hour drug store in Michigan. Located near a hospital complex, the outlet consistently set growth records at Perry, whose overall business was expanding rapidly at the time.
The store’s performance didn’t go unnoticed by top management. Giancamilli quickly became a district manager, overseeing some 15 outlets. He once again delivered strong results, opening the way for his ascent through Perry’s executive ranks.
He was, sequentially, vice president of pharmacy, operations and merchandising before being appointed president and chief operating officer in 1993, a position he held until the company was sold to Rite Aid Corp. two years later. As president, Giancamilli brought to the entire Perry chain the knack for retailing that he had demonstrated at the first store he managed.
“I owe a lot to Jack Robinson,” notes Giancamilli, who, in addition to taking advantage of the opportunities that Perry offered to expand his horizons, sharpened his financial skills by attending night school. “He is a wonderful man and a very astute business person.
“We were very close and had a great working relationship. When I left, he told my mother, ‘Andy is the son I never had.’ ”
With the sale of Perry, Giancamilli decided to move on. After weighing several offers, he signed on for a job that didn’t take him far geographically but, in some respects, was a world away. He joined Troy, Mich.-based Kmart Corp., then the nation’s second largest retailer with annual sales of $34.4 billion, as vice president of pharmacy and related categories.
Giancamilli made an immediate impact by stressing retail fundamentals. Within two years he was able to increase sales in the “drug store” segment of the discounter’s business from $1 billion to $4 billion annually.
“When I got there, Kmart had no understanding of category management, no assortment planning, virtually no planograms,” he recalls. “I recognized that that had to change, and got back to the basics.
“We started bringing in new people, including some of my old team members from Perry, and teaching category management. We established zone pricing, changed wholesalers, got back in stock and started promoting our pharmacies. The timing was right.”
Giancamilli’s success in quadrupling sales is all the more impressive when it is remembered that Kmart’s overall competitive position continued to erode during those years.
Management changes cleared the way for him to assume more responsibility, and Giancamilli was chosen to head the company’s consumables business, a $12 billion portfolio, which included pharmacy, health care and, eventually, jewelry and women’s fashion accessories.
“I brought in some of the same skill sets, changed some executives and married merchandising with analytical data,” he says. “We did very well.”
In October 1997 Giancamilli was named president and general merchandise manager for the entire chain. Together with chief executive officer Floyd Hall, whom Giancamilli calls the best retailer he ever met, the new Kmart president continued to work toward the revitalization of one of the iconic brands in the history of American retailing.
Upon Hall’s retirement in 2000, the board made a fateful decision for Kmart — and Giancamilli — by hiring CVS Corp. president Chuck Conaway as chief executive officer. His vision did not coincide with Giancamilli’s, and Kmart embarked on a new course.
“Our strategy had been to differentiate Kmart from Wal-Mart and Target by offering brands — things like Martha Stewart, Jaclyn Smith and Sesame Street — that consumers couldn’t find in another store at Kmart prices,” explains Giancamilli. “Conaway decided to go head-to-head with Wal-Mart in the areas where it was strongest, and the results were disastrous.”
Giancamilli resigned and left Kmart in June 2001. After a brief break, his next assignment took him to Canada, where his father had started his American journey. Canadian Tire, whose big-box stores offer an eclectic range of goods and services, hired him to handle dealer relations and renegotiate its franchise agreement.
Two years later Giancamilli was planning to return to the U.S. when Daryl Katz asked him if he wanted to join the Katz Group, one of the largest pharmacy operators in North America, first as head of its Snyders division in Minnesota and then as CEO of the entire operation.
“Katz is a great company, and business in Canada, where the majority of our stores are located, is good and strong,” Giancamilli notes. “In the U.S. we face the ongoing challenge of keeping a regional drug chain competitive with the likes of CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Target.”
During his six-year tenure at Katz the executive has managed to make the retailer more efficient, give its various components a common point of identification with the Rexall brand and help expand the reach of community pharmacy.
Of all his achievements, Giancamilli cites his marriage to his wife of 35 years, Wanda, and their two children as his proudest accomplishments. He notes that as parents, he and his wife have used his career to remind their children, Vanessa, 32, and Andrew, 30, that “if you work hard, persevere and stay true to your values, success is always within reach.”
Reflecting on his career to date, Giancamilli is reminded of a speech he heard an acquaintance give disparaging America as the land of opportunity. After listening for awhile, he walked out.
Weeks later he ran into the acquaintance, who asked what he had said to prompt that reaction.
Giancamilli answered that the premise of the speech was totally off-base. When challenged about why he was so certain the speaker was wrong, Giancamilli responded, “I know because I’ve lived the American Dream.”
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