Her career spanned the most transformational milestones in CVS’ history.
WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Judy Sansone has seen a lot of changes during the course of her diverse career at CVS Health and, in many cases, she has helped play a major role in the evolution of the company from a regional drug store operator into a national chain, a pharmacy innovation company, and now a health care innovation company. As senior vice president of front-store omnichannel business and chief merchant she has helped lead the transformation of the chain’s front end to reflect its positioning as a health destination. Since CVS Health’s 2014 decision to stop selling tobacco, the company has embarked on a journey to create a product assortment and shopping environment that reinforces its health focus and supports the core pharmacy department.
After 42 years as an integral part of the CVS Health, Sansone announced her retirement, ending an illustrious career at CVS that began as a part-time cashier, leading eventually to experience as a store manager and then operations executive before she moved to total front store omnichannel business leadership with merchandising, loyalty and personalization and store design.
In recognition of her major contributions to CVS and the industry, the editors of Chain Drug Review have awarded Sansone its 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Sansone has worked at CVS for her entire adult life. “I started my first job ever, as a cashier at CVS, when I was in high school. I’d like to say I was initially attracted to CVS because of a grander purpose but, honestly, I joined CVS as a teenager and a customer who loved CVS and our beauty business. It was a fun place to shop and a great place for part-time work,” she recalled.
She continued to work there while in college and was inspired by her store manager to go into the company’s store management program. “Shortly after, I was promoted into our corporate headquarters as a buyer, where I developed most of my career in the merchandising area. I was a category manager, DMM and vice president in a number of merchandise areas including health, beauty, general merchandise, consumables and store brands before becoming an senior vice president in 2011.”
She noted that she had the opportunity to be part of the integration team for several acquisitions, including Eckerd Drug, Osco Drug and Longs Drug Stores. “The things I learned on those integration teams really helped me to understand what I needed to know as my roles in the company grew.”
She continued, “As a bit of a data geek, I learned early on about the power of data and analytics and the power in our ExtraCare and personalization program to transform growth. This helped as ExtraCare and promotions became part of my team. We integrated digital commerce into our front-store business several years ago, and it’s that integration that helped us to center on the integrated experience we have today.”
She said that these early positions helped prepare her for future leadership roles. “Every position that I have held has created an opportunity for learning, and I used them not only to contribute but to learn. I learned from leaders, and especially our field leaders, what good looked like and the power of collaboration inside CVS as well as with our supplier partners.”
She added that she also learned what power is created when leaders empower a team and work on common goals. “Much can be accomplished when you don’t see barriers. I saw how diversity of thinking changes the questions and gives you better answers. As part of the retail leadership team, I was able to use these learnings to support enterprise collaboration.”
Sansone’s career spanned the most transformational milestones in CVS’ history, such as the development of the ExtraCare customer loyalty program. She is also credited with playing a leading role in the company’s decision to stop selling tobacco.
“That was a pivotal moment for us, because it began a transformation that brought our purpose to life across all of our retail businesses.”
Her vision is said to have been a critical element as CVS Pharmacy has reimagined both its front store and the e-commerce experience to make the retailer a health and beauty destination.
When asked which accomplishments she was most proud of, Sansone replied, “I’m proud of the diverse and talented team of leaders that are at CVS and that will take the business forward. George Coleman, who is now in the role of chief merchant, is a tremendous leader for our front-store business. I’m also proud that we created the environment where innovation is expected and a bias to action, is a part of everyone’s job because it opened the minds of the team to what is possible. I’m also very proud of the data-driven and customer-led thinking in the solutions the team has created. This allowed us to define and execute the strategic road map for our business.”
She noted that innovations in the last few years have included a number of initiatives grounded in purpose.
“Purpose-led innovations continue to make me proud. Since the exit of tobacco in 2014 we continue the health-focused changes that inspired our teams to remove low-SPF products for health, remove trans fats from our food products, remove chemicals of concern in our personal care business, and introduce the CVS Beauty Mark, which marks any photos in our stores if they have been digitally enhanced as an effort to support a healthy self-image to the next generation. The teams at CVS consider our purpose of helping people on their path to better health in all of the work they do for our customers.”
She said ExtraCare has transformed into the largest digital growth platform of the front store, with digitally driven commerce and personalized engagement growing double-digit for multiple years. “ExtraCare is 20 years old, and innovations for our customers continue. The opportunity to lead ExtraCare as part of my responsibilities allowed me to integrate my passion for data-driven actions, with a strong loyalty program and double the impact though data science and business integration.”
She added that customer-centered store formats continue to gain “a range of store formats that have each been grounded in customer-first thinking, allowing us to create our health and beauty format focused on the shift from sick care to self-car and elevation of healthy choices in consumables that leads the change as the Front Door to Health Care for CVS; our Beauty in Real Life format; CVS Ymas; and, most recently, HealthHUBs. Each format is data- and customer-centered so that we improve our relevance in the community and business results. They are designed with in-store experiences from health services to beauty. This also includes our partnerships with digital-first companies like Smile Direct and others.”
Lastly, she said the Front Door to Health Care with the company’s HealthHUBs is another accomplishment of pride. “This is a true customer-centered integration with our enterprise assets to create a one-of-a-kind platform for health engagement with products and services in one place, creating a local, simple place to take care of your everyday health needs.”
When asked about brick-and-mortar retail, she noted that it will continue to change with customers’ needs. “I think the demands of our customer will continue to increase and that every retail business will need to provide great customer-centered solutions. I believe thinking about retail as either brick-and-mortar or digital has passed. Customers are oblivious to channels … customers will chose the channel that is right for them at that time and place. Customers expect integrated solutions, and each channel needs to provide those solutions in an integrated way.”
When asked what will she miss most about working for CVS, she said, “The people, of course. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best people in in the retail industry. I’ve had the benefit of learning from everyone from my team to my peers to supplier partners and, of course, many leaders at CVS over time. I’ve been so fortunate to have been given the opportunities to work for this company, a company with the customer at the center of everything they do, a company who tells everyone that innovation is part of their responsibility and then acts on those innovations at scale … and to be part of a company with a purpose of helping people on their path to better health. I’m proud of the team that will drive the business forward.”
Sansone added that although she announced her retirement in September, she has been asked to stay on a bit to help CVS by supporting the team on the development and growth of its HealthHUB store format.
Once her time at CVS is over she is looking forward to some much deserved time to enjoy family and friends for now … and then on to the next phase.”