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Merlo changed CVS into a health care company

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — MMR’s sister publication Chain Drug Review has honored Larry Merlo, chief executive officer of CVS Health, with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

It was not a difficult decision.

In 10 years as CVS’ CEO, Merlo has remade the company, leading it into the next generation of health care while simonizing its appeal to its expanding base of customers and patients. Indeed, asked to recall the accomplishment of which he is most proud, he doesn’t hesitate: “Transforming our company into a health care organization,” he answers with a combination of pride, conviction and a hint of modesty typical of a man who grew up in the vast but undistinguished Pennsylvania neighborhood between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Not that this transformation has been his only accomplishment. Pressed to add to his resume — Merlo only speaks about himself when pressed — he speaks of integrating CVS with Aetna, the health care insurer that the drug chain acquired midway during his tenure as CEO. He points to the growth of Aetna at a time when detractors were predicting the acquisition would never work; the emergence of specialty pharmacy as an offshoot of CVS’ primary prescription drug business; and, almost as afterthoughts, the company’s decision to stop selling tobacco products and, perhaps most significantly, the successful rebranding of the retailer as CVS Health.

When pressed, CVS’ CEO is more comfortable discussing the impact his company has had on its customers. “I believe we’ve created a company that has helped people on the road to better health,” he says, adding that, if asked, many CVS colleagues would accurately point to the retailer’s pivotal role in improving consumer health. “I believe, as do many of our associates, that our elderly customers are enjoying better health today at least in part because of our involvement in their lives,” he says. “I would also point to the way we have met the challenges of COVID-19.”

Asked to elaborate, Merlo expresses his admiration for the way CVS employees accepted and stepped up to meet their responsibilities in dealing with COVID. “We responded as a professional organization is supposed to respond,” he says. “That response has made me particularly proud.”

Those who know Larry Merlo best know that he believes he’s been fortunate to get the chance to lead CVS in these perilous times. He expressed that view at a recent  meeting with CVS’ leadership team. “I believe,” he said at the time, “that’s it’s been an honor and a privilege to be your CEO for these past 10 years — just as I know how fortunate I’ve been to work for CVS for the past 42 years.”

Best of luck, Larry. You’ve earned at least that much — and, in truth, a whole lot more.


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