Howard Kramer has worked for Kmart for the past 37 years, or, said another way, since 1974.

David Pinto, Howard Kramer, Kmart, Virginia Commonwealth University, pharmacy manager, Andy Giancamilli, former CEO, Katz Drug, Canada, Cathy Polley, vice president, Food Marketing Institute, immunizer, American Pharmacists Association,

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

The story of Howard Kramer

April 2nd, 2012
by David Pinto, Editor

Howard Kramer has worked for Kmart for the past 37 years, or, said another way, since 1974.

A pharmacist by training and commitment — he received a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy from the Virginia Commonwealth University in 1969 — he has successfully, often brilliantly, handled every pharmacy job Kmart has offered.

Kramer joined Kmart as a pharmacy manager, just in time to open the first Kmart pharmacy in the Detroit area, then direct its progress as pharmacy volume climbed to a then-unheard-of 75 prescriptions a day in just six months by “exceeding customer expectations.”

A year after joining Kmart Kramer was promoted to pharmacy district manager, with responsibility for managing some 25 Kmart pharmacies in five states. From there his career advanced without a pause — to associate buyer for O-T-C and Rx drugs, to co-buyer for the same categories, to director of pharmacy recruiting and training, to director of pharmacy personnel and, in 1996, to director of pharmacy human resources. Ten years ago he was given the additional title of director of government affairs.

Kramer is currently licensed to practice pharmacy in Virginia, Maryland, Florida and Michigan. He has been certified as an immunizer by the American Pharmacists Association. During his career he has been active in no fewer than five professional pharmacy organizations as well as such national groups as the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy and the American Pharmacists Association. He has served on the pharmacy dean’s advisory board at the University of Tennessee, Wayne State University, Xavier University, Roosevelt University and Chicago State University.

Industry people who have worked with him over the years are unstinting in their praise of Kramer, his abilities and accomplishments. "For a long time he symbolized what pharmacy was all about at Kmart," says Andy Giancamilli, the former CEO at Katz Drug in Canada, who was chief operating officer at Kmart during the 1990s. "No one in my career had the dedication to the profession of pharmacy that Howard brought to every task he was given. And no one carried out each assignment more ­professionally."

Adds Cathy Polley, currently a vice president at the Food Marketing Institute, who once worked with Kramer at Kmart: "Howard was simply the best. And he made everyone around him better. That’s not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of everyone who came into contact with him, both at Kmart and in the pharmacy community."

Now Howard Kramer is looking for a job. He was told in mid-February that, due to “corporate restructuring,” his position had been eliminated. He was asked to stay with the company until March 2 to assist in transitioning.

As is true of so many successful people, Kramer is not yet ready to retire. So he’s looking for a new opportunity. He’s particularly interested in finding work with a pharmacy board or other regulatory agency, and believes he can make a contribution in the area of pharmacy compliance. He is also skilled at managing people and teams.

In a sense it’s difficult to feel too badly for Howard Kramer. He’s had a wonderful career and, should it end here, he’s accomplished more than most people do in this life. The hope here, of course, is that his career will not end here, that some perspicacious company or agency will find a use for his skills and ­experience.

The real story here, however, is about Kmart.

The only conclusion that can be adequately drawn from Kramer’s departure is that Kmart doesn’t much care any longer about the pharmacy business. This comes at a time when most mass retailers are expanding their commitment to pharmacy, correctly understanding that the aging of the population and the increasing costs associated with health care have combined to make the dispensing of prescription drugs more rewarding than ever. Not for Kmart, however. This retailer, which has clearly lost its way, is busy closing stores and withdrawing from communities and markets at the fastest pace in its history.

Since December 27 some 50 Kmarts have been slated for closing — and their pharmacy records will be sold to other ­retailers.

So the key question here is not where, or even whether, Howard Kramer will be allowed to continue his career in pharmacy. Rather, it is this: How many other Howard Kramers currently toil at Kmart, people who have given their lives, their talents, their expertise and their experience to making Kmart better than they found it? And how many, going forward, will be asked to leave because the retailer is undergoing “corporate restructuring?”