Lupin 2023

Lifetime achievement award goes to Kerr Drug’s Civello

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RALEIGH, N.C. — In his nearly five decades in chain drug retailing, Anthony Civello has made an indelible mark on the industry.

Tony Civello

It is for this reason that the editors of Chain Drug Review have chosen the 69-year-old former chairman, president and chief executive officer of Kerr Drug as this year’s recipient of its Ronald L. Ziegler Lifetime Achievement Award.

Civello got his first taste of community pharmacy while still a student at the University of Pittsburgh’s pharmacy school when he took a part-time position with the Pittsburgh-based chain Thrift Drug in 1965.

Almost immediately, he recognized that the most valuable asset a drug store had was its pharmacist.

“My focus has always been on the professional and health sides of the business,” he noted a few years ago when this publication named him its retailer of the year. “That’s where I got my start, and I have always seen that as the one thing that sets drug stores apart from other retailers.”

That philosophy has guided Civello throughout his entire career, helping him rise through the ranks at Thrift before heading the team that formed the latest iteration of Kerr Drug in 1997. By putting so much attention on health and wellness, Civello and his partners at Kerr were able to mold the company into a drug chain unlike any other.



While on the surface a typical Kerr Drug outlet looked like any other drug store in the country — offering a complete mix of general merchandise and health and beauty aids — the real emphasis of the store was on pharmacy and health care. In the ensuing 17 years, the Kerr model has been adopted by nearly every drug chain across North America.

“We were able to expand on our vision that the pharmacist was a much more integral part of the health care system,” Civello said. “Since we were able to do that, all of the largest chains have gone down that path.

“I think it would have happened eventually with or without us,” he said. “But I think we helped it move in this ­direction.”

What have become standard parts of many drug chains’ operations today got their start at Kerr. For instance, the chain was one of the first retailers in the United States to have pharmacists providing patient care in a stand-alone chronic care clinic setting. It was also one of the first to deploy clinical pharmacists (having 26 on staff at one point) in a hub and spoke non-dispensing clinical model; providing direct patient care with services such as medication therapy management (MTM).

In the fall of 2005, Kerr took its health-centric focus one step farther when it opened its first Community Healthcare Center by Kerr in the western North Carolina town of Lenoir.
Since then, it has added two other community health care centers in North Carolina.

Like all of its stores, Kerr’s community health centers focus on health and wellness with pharmacists at the heart of the operation.

“Our pharmacists do what they went to school for, which is patient counseling, chronic disease management and interaction with a physician,” Civello said in 2011. “It is intervention to improve the health of ­patients.”

Looking back on his 48 years in chain drug retailing and reflecting on the role he played in helping to shape the industry’s future, Civello says he feels extremely satisfied with how his career turned out after abruptly deciding to resign from Thrift nearly two decades ago and revive a drug chain that had operated in North Carolina for more than 40 years.

“The opportunity to hand-pick people to work with was invaluable,” he says about teaming up with other executives from Thrift and the original Kerr chain.

“To work with them to create a company made it easier to execute on a vision and strategy,” Civello says. “We were all working towards the same goal and had the same vision.”

Community pharmacy advocates and those who have known Civello for a long time say that by attaining that goal, Kerr Drug has helped change the industry.

“I read somewhere that people should strive not only to be successful but to be ‘people of value,’ ” NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson says. “Tony Civello has been both.

“However,” he says, “I would like to edit that to read that people like Tony are people with values — with an ‘s’ — whose character is of the highest integrity. His legacy within the chain drug retailing industry is one of an energetic advocate and the great collaborator of pharmacy.

“Tony Civello has been the heart and conscience of not only NACDS but the profession and industry we serve,” Anderson says. “I know of no finer person and no finer leader.”


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