DEERFIELD, Ill. — The New Year ushered in the beginning of a new era at Walgreen Co., which is scheduled to complete the second and final step of its merger with Alliance Boots GmbH in the first quarter.
And this new era for Walgreens Boots Alliance will get under way without the presence of longtime Walgreens executive Greg Wasson, who in early December announced his plans to retire as chief executive officer of the new company “shortly after the close of the second step of the Alliance Boots transaction,” which was expected by December 31.
At presstime, Walgreens shareholders were scheduled to vote on the transaction at a December 29 meeting in New York City.
It was a surprising decision by Wasson, who has been CEO for the past six years and was instrumental in establishing the global partnership with Alliance Boots.
Stefano Pessina, executive chairman of Alliance Boots, will serve as the combined company’s acting CEO during the board’s search for a successor to Wasson, according to Walgreens’ December 10 announcement. Pessina also sits on the Walgreens board of directors.
In the Walgreens statement, Pessina credited Wasson for his “strategic vision” and for doing “more than transform an iconic company — he has truly helped to change an entire industry for generations to come.”
“The completion of the merger between Walgreens and Alliance Boots and the establishment of the first global pharmacy-led, health and well-being enterprise are a fitting tribute to Greg’s exceptional leadership and legacy at Walgreens,” Pessina added.
Among investors on Wall Street, the reaction to Wasson’s retirement was mixed. Many credited him for the strategic vision behind the Walgreens Well Experience store format, while others saw the move as leading to a greater focus on costs and operating efficiency.
Wasson related in the company’s statement that when he was named CEO six years ago, he had three goals in mind: transforming the front end of the store, advancing the role of community pharmacy and finding the “right partner to take Walgreens global.”
He added, “With the creation of Walgreens Boots Alliance, it is now time for new leadership to move that vision forward [and] build on the global platform we have created.”
Wasson also said he “could not be more proud of our company or more grateful for the opportunities I have had to work with so many incredible people since joining Walgreens over 35 years ago.”
Upon Wasson’s retirement, Walgreens chairman James Skinner will become executive chairman of Walgreens Boots Alliance, and William Foote will serve as the lead independent director of the Walgreens Boots Alliance board of directors.
Skinner said he believes Wasson “has been an excellent, visionary CEO, and the personification of Walgreens’ best qualities since he joined the company 35 years ago.”
Pessina said he looks forward to working with Skinner “and all the leaders of the future enterprise when we launch the combined group.”
While Wasson was CEO, Walgreens delivered total shareholder returns exceeding the S&P 500 and generating more free cash flow over six years than in the previous 98 years combined, the Walgreens statement noted.
In 1980, Wasson joined Walgreens as a pharmacy intern while still studying at Purdue University’s School of Pharmacy. Over the next few years, his career path took him from managing pharmacies in Houston to become regional vice president of store operations. From there he took on various executive roles in the Walgreens Health Initiatives division, which eventually led to his promotion to chief operating officer and ultimately CEO of the company.