Former Rite Aid exec ready to lead operations, development
DEERFIELD, Ill. — With the appointment of John Standley as Walgreens’ president yesterday, the management team at Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) gained an invaluable asset — a proven retail leader well equipped to provide a fresh, new perspective on the strategic transformation of the business that is already underway. A former chief executive officer at Rite Aid Corp. and Pathmark Stores Inc., Standley was the clear choice to oversee Walgreens operations and development, according to Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer of WBA, to whom Standley reports.
“This is really quite a unique role when you consider the level of understanding that’s required in pharmacy and retail, as well as the ambitious agenda that we’ve set for ourselves,” Gourlay says. “We’re fortunate to get someone who has that level of experience, understanding and scope to run this fantastic brand and business.
“All of the senior people at WBA, very much including myself, were convinced that he is the right leader for the Walgreens business at this point. We wouldn’t have taken a risk with someone who wasn’t fully qualified, given the level of change in the marketplace and transformation that we’re driving inside the company, particularly in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Standley — who spent his career in the supermarket sector before moving to Rite Aid, where as CEO he guided the company’s turnaround from 2010 to 2019 — is expected to help accelerate implementation of Walgreens’ four overarching priorities — creating neighborhood health care destinations, restructuring its retail offering, digitalizing the business and controlling costs. Standley indicates that he is eager to pick up where his predecessor, Richard Ashworth (who resigned in May to become CEO of Tivity Health) left off.
Citing Walgreens’ iconic brand, deep roots in health care and 9,100 stores across the country, Standley says that he is ready to help build on a strong foundation and pursue a compelling vision of where the industry is headed. “It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity, and I’m fired up to jump in here and see where we can take this,” he notes.
The intersection of retailing, health care and technology is one area where Standley is likely to make an immediate impact. Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and CEO of WBA, has said that, in the future, digital tools will be consumers’ first point of contact with Walgreens, a shift that the company is working hard to prepare for.
“We’re really committed to the digitalization of our company,” Gourlay explains. “We’re investing heavily in our core systems. And on top of that, of course, we’re working with Microsoft and, more recently, Adobe to get the data in the Cloud so we can utilize the information in a way that allows us to really present personalized experiences with the dual permission of the patient and the customer, because they have so much trust in our brands.
“Both on the proprietary side with core systems and also now with digital tools for the customer, we’re really pushing hard. This is going to be our biggest investment year in these areas. Thankfully, the customers and patients are looking for it. We’ve made rapid strides since the pandemic swung into full force, and we’ve seen the reaction of customers. Now we have to stay the course and drive that further.”
For his part, Standley says, “I’m excited to have the opportunity to be at the interface of where all this technology is brought to bear to change the experience for our customers and our team members. That’s where I think I fit into the puzzle. The team has invested a lot of time and effort to build out a really thoughtful strategy here. And we’re at a really exciting point where we’ll start to see some of that work come to life.”
Standley’s background and expertise should also come in handy when questions of cost containment and allocation of resources are under consideration.
“I know how to operate in an environment where the business faces capital and cost constraints,” he recalls about his years at Pathmark and Rite Aid. “The team here has done a pretty incredible job on the cost side of the business. There’s a lot of process and infrastructure in place.
“The real opportunity is figuring out how we bring these investments to bear in ways that drive growth for the company. For me personally, I’m excited because I’ve never had these kind of resources available before in my career.”
The ultimate determinant of Walgreens’ future is likely to be its approach to pharmacy and health care, which account for some 70% of revenue. Standley is bullish about WBA’s recent investment in VillageMD, a deal that will put 500 to 700 of the primary care clinics in Walgreens stores within the next five years.
“The VillageMD deal is really interesting,” Standley comments. “Bringing localized health care and pharmacy together to create a care model that is very unique and gives us the opportunity to build patient relationships in a whole new way.”
In addition to improving patient care, the emerging model has the potential to fundamentally change relationships between Walgreens and third-party payers, a goal that has long eluded pharmacy operators.
“There’s much more chance of making that happen now, because we have data and the ability to demonstrate where we’re making an impact,” says Gourlay. “We will be able to show a health system where our services are reducing overall costs. So were continuing to transform in this new world, because that’s where the world’s headed. With all the investments we’ve made, I’m very comfortable we’ll figure that out.”