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Gourlay to keep Walgreens on track

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Steps in as Ashworth prepares to exit

DEERFIELD, Ill. – With Richard Ashworth’s resignation as Walgreens president to lead Tivity Health Inc., one thread in the drug chain’s storied history is coming to an end, even as the overarching narrative of its transformation continues.

Ashworth – whose duties are being assumed by Walgreens Boots Alliance co-chief operating officer Alex Gourlay, whom he succeeded as the drug chain’s president in February — had spent his entire career with the company. On June 1, he will take the reins as chief executive officer of Tivity, a provider of fitness, nutrition and social engagement solutions under such brands as Nutrisystem, SilverSneakers and WholeHealth Living.

alex gourlay

Alex Gourlay

“I want to wish Richard the very best,” Gourlay says. “He’s put at least as much into Walgreens as he got out of it. He deserves all the success in the future.

“Richard and I worked really closely together to develop a transformation strategy for Walgreens. That transformation continues, as we work to improve a fantastic brand and a fantastic company that is so important to America. I’m 100% committed to delivering on the strategy, and understand the critical importance of taking care of our people, taking care of our customers and driving the changes that we started five years ago.”

For his part, Ashworth expresses mixed emotions about leaving Walgreens: “I’ve been here for 28 years and there’s been an Ashworth in the Walgreens business for over 50. So the company has been a big part of the fabric of my life.

Richard Ashworth

“The good news is that Walgreens is in great shape, with really strong plans, a very clear strategy, fantastic people, a fantastic brand and great leadership. With Alex stepping in to lead Walgreens directly, there’s great continuity and connection, in terms of where the company is headed. I’m excited about the future of Walgreens, but I’m also excited about the chance to lead Tivity, and help it pursue its mission and purpose of helping people create and improve healthy lifestyles.”

With Gourlay in operational control, the drug chain won’t miss a beat. He played the formative role in crafting the plan for reimagining the venerable Walgreens brand for the 21st century.

“Our strategy is based on what customers want and need from a community pharmacy, scaled across America,” he says, “and, of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic what customers need has become really clear. They want real value from a pharmacy-led health and beauty specialist. That value comes in two dimensions  — giving them the right products and services at a price that they are prepared to pay.

“The second thing is, we have to digitalize the business. We’ve been investing heavily in our pharmacy platform as well as our retail platform, and we’re moving aggressively into digital platforms as well. During this crisis, our team has driven new customer offers — for example, the ability to pick up 500 essential items along with prescriptions at the drive-through. That was just an idea six weeks ago, and two weeks later it was live. So again, a high priority is digitalizing the offer, making sure that we can speak directly to customers through their apps, and making appropriate use of data, so we can get people what they need when and how they want to receive it.”

Walgreens’ focus on building its digital capabilities hasn’t prevented it from buttressing its foundation of 9,277 brick-and-mortar stores across the U.S. The retailer has brought a series of innovations to customers in recent years, many of them developed through partnerships with such companies as FedEx, LabCorp and food retailer Kroger.

“We have to reconfigure the one-size-fits-all drug store, and make it more appropriate for its locality,” says Gourlay. “Take the Kroger trial, for example, and how that’s driving a completely different mission beyond what we did in drug stores before in terms of appropriate fill-in trips. Now we’ve got all the grocery products people need, including fresh. And we’re pretty pleased with the tests we’re doing in health care. For example, getting the doctor really close to the patient – both physically and digitally inside of the drug store.

“The final piece of our strategy is connecting all that together to create a true omnichannel platform — omnichannel in every sense, with digital magic, with human kindness, and with the values that have always driven Walgreens. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this company and this brand, because it’s truly based on the values of Charles Walgreens and the DNA that he put into this company 119 years ago.”

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic could complicate implementation of Walgreens’ strategic plan, but Gourlay indicates that the retailer is prepared to respond to whatever comes next.

“There’s more change to come for sure,” he says. “After COVID-19 the direct-to-consumer model will accelerate further, so we have to take a robust omnichannel approach. The ability of pharmacists to perform their extended role of helping people to understand their medications, administer immunizations, and capitalize on the opportunity for testing will also come to the fore. It’s an exciting period for pharmacy, but it’s going to be a tough one because the reimbursement pressure is extreme. It’s not right, the way that we are compensated right now; the incentives are not fully aligned against the things that pharmacy and pharmacists can do in the future.

“Despite the challenges, I’m really excited to executing Walgreens strategy in the weeks, the months and the years ahead. But the most important thing is to take care of people during this pandemic. That’s what we’re completely focused on.”

As Tivity’s new CEO, Ashworth will also be looking to shape the company’s offerings to meet consumers’ needs in an evolving health care landscape.

“Tivity has a 30-year history of relationships with health plans and employers,” he says. “Tivity has an opportunity to innovate and put its assets together in a way that can make a powerful difference for the community. We can help people who utilize our services live longer, healthier and happier lives. They’re more fit, their nutrition is better and their social engagement is higher, and we know all the health benefits of that.”


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