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Competition makes everyone better

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As anyone who really cares already knows by now, John Standley has been named president of Walgreens.

The appointment is both surprising and logical. Standley is a smart and savvy chain drug executive, having learned his way around the industry through many years of toil and a variety of challenges, most recently at Rite Aid, where he served as president at a critical time for the retailer. In the end, his departure from Rite Aid had less to do with any failings on his part than to a long-standing inability to close the gap between the Camp Hill, Pa., drug chain and industry leaders Walgreens and CVS. There is little doubt at this early juncture that Standley, as he has always done, will acquit himself admirably in his new role. Indeed, the structure and disciplines that have always characterized Walgreens will fit perfectly to Standley’s way of operating, as will the professionalism of Walgreens’ personnel at every level. Any present glitches in the Walgreens operation will surely be ironed out under Standley’s leadership and standards of performance.

The surprise in this choice has less to do with the individual or his background and abilities than with the belief, inexorable, that the lines that have traditionally separated mass market retail trade classes are becoming increasingly blurred.

So it is that the choice of a former Rite Aid executive to lead Walgreens is almost an accidental one. Standley could just as easily come from Walmart or Kroger or Dollar General. Indeed, the current leadership at Dollar General has been largely trained and honed in the chain drug industry.

The point here is that the increasing proficiency of the best mass market retailers has, in turn, lifted the entire industry. More specifically, Walmart’s performance has improved that of Kroger, which has, in turn, raised the game of such retailers as Amazon, H-E-B, CVS, Target and a group of mass retailers too numerous to mention here.

The bigger point to be made here is one that is frequently overlooked or ignored: Mass retailing today is more professional, more accomplished, more grounded, more able to tackle the intricacies of the marketplace than has ever before been true. It is no coincidence that Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, or that Target is close behind in its professional approach to the business. Or that Amazon, with a totally different game plan, is challenging Walmart for industry leadership. Or that such relative newcomers as Dollar General and Family Dollar have quickly learned to compete so effectively.

The biggest point here is that mass retailing has become a professional business, operated by professionals and implemented by a solid group of industry veterans who would be equally comfortable and effective at Walmart, Target, H-E-B, Publix, Albertsons, CVS — or Walgreens.

The industry has John Standley to thank for this belated and sometimes overlooked recognition. There is little doubt that Walgreens conducted a thorough and professional search to find a successor for Richard Ashworth after his recent departure. That Standley was ultimately chosen is a tribute to the individual, the Walgreens organization — and the entire mass retailing community, one which has, at long last, taken its proper place among the very best of American business.

Good luck John. Good fortune will certainly follow you in this new, and very important, ­assignment.


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