Helena Foulkes is running for governor of Rhode Island.
For those among you — very few, I’m certain — who don’t know Helena by name, reputation or both, she has been, over the past two decades, one of the significant contributors to the mass retailing community.
For a time, she held the No. 2 position at CVS, helping lay the groundwork to transform CVS from a health and beauty care retailer to the health care pillar it has become. En route, she was instrumental in the CVS decision to stop selling tobacco products, a departure that opened the door for much that followed at one of America’s premiere chain drug retailers.
After leaving CVS, Foulkes signed on with Canada-based Hudson’s Bay Co., one of the very best mass market retailing organizations operating in this country. Her contributions to that organization are too numerous and too significant to detail in this limited space. Suffice it to say that her tenure at Hudson’s Bay Co. transformed that retail organization in a way few retailing executives have equalled.
Now she’s decided to run for Rhode Island’s governor — for all the right reasons. Foremost among them is her belief, like many politicians before her, that she can make a difference.
So it was that, in mid-November, she hosted a fundraising event on a Tuesday evening in Manhattan. The evening unfolded at the Saks Fifth Avenue store on Fifth Avenue, an appropriate location if for no other reason than Saks is a Hudson’s Bay logo.
The event brought out some 300 friends, acquaintances and admirers of Foulkes, all there to wish her well, cheer her on and ease the always difficult task of raising money for a political contest.
The highlight of the evening — no surprise here — was a short talk by the candidate, during which she outlined her reasons for running (“I believe I can make a difference”), spoke briefly about the key influencers in her professional life (she was particularly effusive in her praise of a former Rhode Island governor), and left the audience having no doubt that she can win the contest, which takes place a year from now.
Along the way, she invited her guests to move to Rhode Island by next August, at which time they would still be eligible to vote in the Democratic primary, a contest that will pit five (at this writing) candidates against each other.
It’s not easy to be objective about Helena Foulkes in this column, primarily because, during her career at CVS she was invariably honest, forthcoming and always eager to share the credit for her successes (but not her infrequent failures) with her fellow staffers. In short, the word gracious applies to Helena as it does to too few of her fellow retail executives.
But personal feelings aside, the belief here is that, given the chance, she would make an exemplary governor, a human being who will, as she has always done, put other human beings first, an American who believes that all Americans deserve a chance to follow the American Dream, and a person who is not afraid of failure for the simple reason that she’s never been afraid to try.
So if you happen to run into Helena on the campaign trail over the coming months, don’t hesitate to say hello, wish her luck and enquire as to what you might do to help her along. You, and the state of Rhode Island, will be richer for the experience.