Fast, nimble Walgreens aims to own ‘well’

Walgreens, the kaleidoscopic company that wants to “own well,” is shuffling management and realigning operations as it works to knock down its remaining internal silos and create a seamless, broad-based retail health-and-
wellness dynamo.

Any snapshot of Walgreens can only present a blurred portrait. At 110 years old, the company is moving so fast on so many fronts that Wall Street analysts and business journalists — not to mention drug, supermarket and mass merchandise competitors on all sides — constantly are trying to draw a complete picture of a shifting and multifaceted retail entity. Whatever picture emerges is likely to be outdated before you can say “8,000 points of care.”

Consider Walgreens’ strategic moves just since the start of this year. In the first four months of 2011, Walgreens has:

Moved to acquire online retailer 
for about $409 million. The acquisition will add about 60,000 products to Walgreens’ online offering and “significantly accelerates our online strategy to leverage the best community store network in America,” asserted president and CEO Greg Wasson;

Agreed to sell its managed care division, Walgreens Health Initiatives, to Catalyst Health Solutions for $525 million in cash. Behind the decision to get out of the pharmacy benefit management business, Wasson said, was the need to focus on “delivering ... high-quality pharmacy, health and wellness solutions ... to become America’s first choice for health and daily living needs.” As part of the deal, Catalyst will provide PBM services for Walgreens’ employee and retiree drug plans, as well as other Walgreens programs, such as the Walgreens Prescription Savings Club. More to the point, Walgreens said it would retain and continue growing its specialty pharmacy and mail-service businesses in support of Walgreens, WHI and Catalyst patients. “Our specialty, infusion and mail pharmacy services are an important extension of our drug stores, retail clinics, worksite health centers and medical facility pharmacies,” Wasson said;

Restructured its health-and-wellness division in line with the retirement in April of health-and-wellness president Hal Rosenbluth, a cofounder of Take Care Health Systems, which Walgreens acquired in 2007. Wasson credited Rosenbluth with a big role in the expansion of “pharmacy, health and wellness services through our Take Care retail clinics and worksite health centers.” Henceforth, the Take Care retail and worksite division under Peter Hotz will report to Mark Wagner, president of a new community management division, while health-and-wellness sales and clinical services, led respectively by chief client officer Joe Terrion and chief medical officer Cheryl Pegus, will become part of the Walgreens pharmacy, health-­and-wellness services and solutions division led by division president Kermit Crawford;

Piloted its first loyalty card program as it applies the expertise it acquired with its purchase of New York’s 258-store Duane Reade chain, a loyalty card innovator;

Unveiled, in early April, the first of a planned 18 rapid car-charging stations it said will open at Walgreens drug stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth market. Launched in partnership with NRG Energy, the eVgo Freedom Stations will comprise the nation’s first privately funded large-scale electric vehicle charging network;

Named Loblaw and Duane Reade veteran Joseph Magnacca president of daily living products and solutions, in charge of integrating and raising the profile of many front-end merchandising efforts; and

Launched a new ad campaign in early March to highlight its new Refill by Scan technology, which enables smartphone users to scan prescription label bar codes with their camera phones to order refills — and to obtain text alerts, browse Walgreens’ product selection and process photos.

Walgreens’ underlying goal, Wasson said, is to be the nation’s premier destination for retail health-and-wellness needs across a broad spectrum of American life, including the retail arena, the workplace, the home for patients with serious conditions in need of specialty medications and infusion, and the hospital and clinic setting. Increasingly, the 7,700-store retail and health giant also is staking out cyberspace with new online services and smartphone applications designed to reach customers and patients anywhere they happen to be.

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