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Industry relationships key in extraordinary times

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Once upon a time, the leaders of America’s largest drug chains — Tom Ryan, Dan Jorndt, Alex Grass, Harvey Rosenthal, Dave Bernauer — were widely recognized and universally admired, not for who they were but for what they accomplished.

Much of the respect they earned emanated from their willingness to interact with other members of the chain drug community, both retailers and suppliers. These industry leaders recognized who they were and what was expected of them. They eagerly participated in industry events, accepted praise and criticism in equal measure, and ultimately came to lead the industry’s official trade organization, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Times have changed. The big drug chains have evolved into diversified health care and retail companies, making the CEO’s job more complex, demanding and time-pressed than ever. The proliferation of obligations has, regrettably, resulted in the leaders of the industry’s three largest companies failing to devote as much time and attention to forging connections throughout the industry as their predecessors did.

Outside of their individual organizations, not enough people in the chain drug industry have had an opportunity to develop a relationship with them. And the question that begs an answer is this one: Why — or why not?

First, as background, here’s a short introduction to each:

Roz Brewer, the woman behind Walgreens Boots Alliance, has gained wide recognition for what she’s accomplished at WBA, rather than the impact she has had as a representative of the industry. Put another way, Brewer has apparently chosen to remain in the background in terms of the industry. In ordinary times, this would not be an issue. Her achievements represent her admirably. WBA is, thanks to her and numerous others within the organization, alive and well.

But these are not ordinary times for chain drug retailing.

Heywood Donigan, Rite Aid’s CEO, has similarly performed remarkable tasks, rescuing the company from dire financial straits and, along with numerous other staffers, returned it to respectability, if not yet outrageous success. Donigan has certainly achieved a lot in a short time, and in ordinary times her accomplishments would speak for her. Yet she remains largely unknown in an industry that longs for an ­introduction.

Heightening the anticipation, these are not ordinary times.

Karen Lynch, CVS Health’s new leader, is also not as visible within the chain drug industry as she could be. Since she succeeded Larry Merlo as CEO, the company hasn’t missed a beat. But Lynch has never appeared at an NACDS meeting of any type. Her views on the association, what it represents, what it seeks to accomplish, and what it stands for in the chain drug and mass retailing communities, largely remain a mystery.

Yet CVS, for reasons valid and questionable, has withdrawn from NACDS. In ordinary times, Lynch’s absence and CVS’ departure from the organization that served it admirably during the company’s decades of prosperity, would be, and should be, grudgingly accepted.

But these are not ordinary times.

Questions abound. For one, how can a dynamic and successful segment of retailing be expected to perform at peak efficiency when three of its most prominent leaders aren’t as engaged with industrywide issues as their predecessors were, or, viewed another way, perhaps do not believe the organization is worth their time and effort? What does that say about them, about the thousands of other industry people who continue to believe in NACDS, or about the association itself?


Emerson Industry Day 2022


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