Don’t call it the end of an era

Neither one of the co-
recipients of this year’s Fantle Award would want you to call it the end of an era. 

Tom Ryan only ever had one employer. From a staff pharmacist fresh out of the University of Rhode Island in 1974 to head of the company and one of only four people, including current president and CEO Larry Merlo, ever to lead CVS, Ryan’s story is unique — and not just because he was a CVS “lifer,” but also because of the indelible stamp his leadership has left on the company. As Ryan grew in his career, CVS grew from a feisty New England-based regional to a national drug store powerhouse to a multiheaded healthcare colossus. 

For Sammons, the path that led her to become the top boss at Rite Aid was much different, having joined the company at a time of immense turmoil following a highly successful run at Fred Meyer, where she had been president and CEO. DSN has long believed that when the final story is written on Rite Aid, Sammons will be remembered as a valiant hero who helped bring the company back through the darkness to a new renaissance that continues to unfold, led by the team that she helped assemble. Rite Aid’s most recent numbers are showing signs of organic growth as a couple of its most important strategic commitments begin to bear fruit — most notably, its new Wellness+ loyalty program, which is quickly gaining traction.

And all of this says nothing about the important leadership Ryan and Sammons have provided for the entire industry, both as past chairmen of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and two of the industry’s most important everyday ambassadors. As Washington continues to address health reform, it is clear that community pharmacy will play a larger role in the delivery of patient care in America. Ryan and Sammons have played an indispensable role in this.

But this also is why neither one of them would want you to refer to this as the end of an era. For one thing, the good work continues for both of the companies, led today by the teams they helped assemble. At CVS, where the change perhaps seems more dramatic given Ryan’s long career at the company, including almost 20 years in the captain’s seat, Ryan’s successor is practically a “lifer” himself, having been with the company for more than 20 years, coming over in the 1990 acquisition of Peoples Drug. And like Ryan, Merlo already has left an indelible stamp on the chain, which is comprised to a large extent of the assorted retail banners CVS has acquired through the years — many of which Merlo led the integration of.

Ryan and Sammons are proud to tell you that the beat goes on at each of their respective companies. That’s the mark of a successful leader. Not only do they leave their companies in much better shape than when they found it, but they also leave their companies as each continues to grow, led by strong, capable new leaders that will continue the story. That it is not the “end of an era” for either company is as much a tribute to the lifetime of achievement these two important executives have had as any trophy ever could be.

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