Inside This Issue - Opinion
Work on health care is big part of Burd legacy
April 15th, 2013
Steve Burd will step down as chairman and chief executive officer of Safeway Inc. at the company’s annual shareholders meeting next month.
His retirement will bring to a close two tumultuous decades during which he oversaw the rapid expansion of the food/drug combination store operator through acquisition and the subsequent retooling of its operations.
"I feel this is the right time to move forward with a transition plan," Burd said when his intentions were announced at the start of the year. "The company is gaining market share with each passing quarter. We have developed the most sophisticated digital marketing platform in retail, we are implementing the most comprehensive and personalized fuel loyalty program, and we will be rolling out a wellness initiative that has the potential to transform the company."
Burd’s impact on Safeway, the nation’s No. 2 supermarket chain and its eighth-largest mass retailer, has, for better and worse, been decisive. His most enduring legacy may, however, be his contributions to health care, work that started with Safeway’s involvement in the field as both provider and payer, and expanded to include an advocacy role.
Under Burd the company has developed new ways to support the well-being of customers. On the food side of the business, for example, it has deployed SimpleNutrition color-coded shelf tags to help shoppers make better product choices; in pharmacy (where Safeway is the ninth-biggest dispenser of prescription medications), it has developed what a spokesman says is "the most comprehensive immunization program in the industry."
The retailer’s influence is arguably greater as a health care payer. Since 2005, Safeway has introduced features to its health plans that encourage behavior that enhances the wellness of employees and results in lower health care costs for beneficiaries and the company. The spokesman notes that from 2005 through 2011 Safeway’s health care costs increased just 2%, while those of the average company in this country rose 8%.
Burd was one of the first top executives to speak out forcefully about the need to make health care more effective and efficient, and Safeway’s success on that front serves as an example for other companies. Burd indicates that his involvement in health care isn’t over. Based on his past contributions, that’s a good thing.