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Remembering Jack Futterman

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Jack Futterman passed away earlier thus summer, at the age of 82. For an extended period of time he was a vital force in chain drug retailing, as he was in the larger world of grocery retailing.

Jack Futterman passed away earlier thus summer, at the age of 82. For an extended period of time he was a vital force in chain drug retailing, as he was in the larger world of grocery retailing.

Futterman achieved this status through his steady advancement at the New Jersey-based Pathmark grocery chain, one which at the time included a drug chain that was both integrated into the food retailer and separately operated. At different points in his career Futterman ran each entity, ultimately reaching the level of chairman and chief executive officer at the food retailer.

Futterman’s association with the chain drug industry came primarily through the Pathmark drug store chain, one that became closely allied with NACDS during a period when the drug store association sought to broaden its reach and impact to non-drug-store-based mass retailers. Futterman eagerly accepted a leadership role at NACDS, becoming the organization’s chairman in 1994.

What made Futterman especially valuable to NACDS and, through the association, to the chain drug industry was his level of involvement. Put another way, he was not content merely to serve the association, he saw his duty as influencing it by demonstrating pharmacy’s value in a retailing arena that stretched beyond the then-narrow confines of a community drug store.

To that end, he became a vital cog in the chain drug mechanism, attending key events; bringing Pathmark’s considerable expertise advantages to bear on NACDS’ initiatives and activities; leading the association into new areas; and encouraging new ways of approaching existing ­issues.

Futterman became engaged for several reasons. For one, he believed in the association and, especially, the programs conceived under the association’s president at the time, Ron Ziegler. For another, he felt that Pathmark’s involvement with NACDS would benefit the grocery chain, which indeed it did, in many important ways. Indeed, Pathmark became the first grocery retailer to gain significant advantages through its membership in NACDS.

But perhaps most significant, Futterman easily embraced the leadership role NACDS afforded him, accepting and understanding the fact that chairmanship at the association could be more than an honorarium and could, in fact, become a podium for advancing new ideas, formulating new programs, extending the association’s — and the industry’s — influence and authority. Equally meaningfully, Pathmark’s position at NACDS during Futterman’s tenure as chairman opened the door for other grocery retailers while making grocery retailing a more palatable membership extension for what had been, until then, a closed trade association defined by and limited to the words "drug stores."

All of which leads back to Futterman’s passing. His funeral, though heavily attended by family and friends, was notable for the absence of industry people. Clearly, this was understandable. Jack Futterman had been retired for some considerable time before his death. During that period, the chain drug industry, and the association behind it, had moved on. Grocery retailing had become more synonymous with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and its current chairman, Randy Edeker of the Hy-Vee grocery chain, is correctly viewed as an advocate of pharmacy and its related categories. Anyone doubting that need only journey to the Midwest and study some of the Hy-Vee ­supermarkets.

But the larger issue here is the fact that things change. Nothing today is what it was a decade or two ago, just as nothing in place today will survive until 2025 and beyond.

That’s as true of people as it is of events. As significant as Jack Futterman was to the mass retailing community, he was, sadly, yesterday’s news. Today, he is merely a memory, a footnote to the chain drug industry’s evolution, a milestone on its journey to prominence.
If the Jack Futtermans of retailing have given chain drug retailing its credibility and prestige, they are destined to find their reward in the industry’s history, not their own.


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