Inside This Issue - Opinion
NACDS Annual Meeting preview
March 31st, 2014
by David Pinto, Editor
As the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores approaches — it is scheduled to be held in Scottsdale, Ariz., from April 25 to April 29 — it is slowly becoming apparent that this year’s event will differ from past gatherings in ways both dynamic and subtle. Herewith, a small sampling of the differences:
• The formal debuts of Helena Foulkes and Alex Gourlay. Though CVS Caremark chief executive officer Larry Merlo and Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson will be on hand, the presence of Foulkes and Gourlay will refocus the attention of meeting-goers, suppliers, competitors and guests. Foulkes has recently assumed the role of president of the CVS drug chain, while Gourlay, formerly head of the Boots drug chain in the U.K., arrives in Scottsdale as the key Walgreens executive where the supplier community is concerned.
It should be said at the outset that, in each case, these appointments have significantly strengthened already formidable retailers. The two leaders share lots in common, most notably a broad chain drug background and a huge degree of success in past endeavors.
Equally important, each brings to the new job a different, and sometimes more enlightened, outlook and approach to business than their predecessors, one that bodes well for suppliers seeking to establish, strengthen or refocus relationships with two of their largest and most significant accounts. That said, among the primary tasks of meeting-goers in Scottsdale must be the work of establishing and building relationships with these two newly emergent chain drug store leaders, a task that will be made easier by the warm reception that is integral to the personalities of both Foulkes and Gourlay.
• The introduction of John Standley as chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Standley, as those who follow chain drug retailing in America well know, is the chief executive at Rite Aid, and has been during that drug chain’s remarkable recovery from near extinction. Initially more difficult to know than either Foulkes or Gourlay, Standley will prove equally accessible to those who make the effort.
That effort must be made, however, because the new NACDS chairman is unusually self-effacing for so senior an executive. Put another way, he is unaccustomed to the limelight, despite having accomplished so much as Rite Aid’s CEO. Whatever, watching Standley balance his new role with his existing position as Rite Aid’s chief will be interesting — and rewarding for those who take the time to get to know the man behind the titles.
• The first Walmart meeting under the retailer’s new leadership. Well, not actually the first — the company convened its annual year-beginning meeting in Orlando last month — but the first public gathering of Walmart executives since Doug McMillon was named CEO earlier this year. Internally, the McMillon era has already produced a new sense of urgency within a company that had, some say, lost its desire to excel, with the inevitable result that the Walmart stores had come to reflect a lack of cutting-edge discipline that once characterized the retailer. McMillon has promised to improve the focus — and though he will not personally attend the NACDS meeting (though there are those who maintain that he should), his representatives will be sharply watched to determine what initial changes can be seen, changes that will usher in larger changes going forward. In short, this is the dawn of a new era for Walmart, one that will answer this basic question: Can Walmart once again be what it once was?
• The departure of Bob Narveson as NACDS chairman. Seldom in recent years has the reign of an NACDS chairman gone as smoothly and productively as has the tenure of Thrifty White’s president in the 12 months that will end at the Annual Meeting. What Narveson proved, among other things, is that the size of the retailer has no relationship to the ability of its leader to function as association chairman. Further, his time in office has shown the wisdom of a well-defined agenda, in this case an emphasis on the profession of retail pharmacy, not as a sales producer but as a valuable, indeed indispensable, service. The hope here is that Narveson, once out of office, will not be relegated to that “former chairman” status so often reserved for those who, having served, are now forgotten.
Those vignettes are but a preview of all that a meeting-goer can expect to see and discover at this year’s NACDS Annual Meeting.