Coming from a diverse neighborhood gave her ‘street smarts,’ but Rite Aid’s head of pharmacy tells Drug Store News her most important leadership lessons came from two pillars of the Philadelphia community — her mom and dad.
You got your start 25 years ago as a pharmacist for Thrift Drug. What made you want to get into pharmacy, and what keeps you excited about the business? I first became interested in becoming a pharmacist when I was in second grade. I had to do a science fair project and my mother suggested I do the project on Dr. Funk, a Polish-American scientist, known as the pioneer of vitamins. As part of the presentation, we went to the corner drug store where I was provided an apothecary jar filled with vitamins to share as a visual for my presentation. ... I began my career as an intern at Thrift Drug and was immediately immersed in all business aspects of pharmacy; under their model, the pharmacist also was responsible for the front of the store. That experience [helped] develop my abilities to manage, lead and run an entire business operation at a very early point in my career. ...
I believe that pharmacists ... are at times undervalued in the healthcare landscape. What continues to motivate me about the profession is being able to showcase pharmacists’ accessibility, their expertise and their ability to make a positive difference in the health outcomes of their patients.
You’re from Philadelphia. How has that influenced who you are and how you think? I grew up in Port Richmond. ... Growing up in the city allowed me to experience living in a strong community. ... As I think back, I believe this was my first lesson in leadership — building and maintaining relationships with a diverse group of kids. I learned how to collaborate and work with others. ... I developed my debate and negotiation skills, and ... growing up in the city [helped] me develop ... “street smarts.” ... You get to know people very well. You know who you can trust, who you can count on and who you need to avoid. I learned to listen to and trust my instincts.
Who was your most important mentor, and what was the most important thing you learned from them? My most important mentors were my parents. ... My father, Joseph, [was] a Philadelphia City Councilman. ... He always put the needs of his constituents first, and ... taught me the real power of being a servant-leader. He always found the time to listen to their concerns ... and fight for their needs. He was extremely approachable and always available. He stayed true to his values and beliefs, even in the toughest of situations. He had an incredible knack for influencing decision makers. ... I [also] learned from him how to have some sense of work-life balance. ... Although he worked many hours and was extremely committed to his career, he was there for me and my five siblings for important events, and never missed a family dinner.
"I am proud to have had the opportunity to be an organ donor, and I continue to support and talk to others who are on that journey. ...”... My mother, Marti, was a strong mentor as well. ... [She] taught me to be a strong female executive. After we were older, my mother [went to work for] Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum [in the early 80s, and] was a part of the team that turned [it] into the amazing museum that it is today. Watching her inspired me to be an influencer, sharing my ideas and adding value in any role that I pursue.
What was the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you? Robert Thompson, my predecessor at Rite Aid, was another important mentor in my life. ... [He told me],“Be yourself; be humble; be curious and to always ask why; and to look and listen not only to what is being said, but for what’s missing.”
When you’re not working, what’s your favorite thing to do? ... There is no greater joy for me than spending time with my husband, Tom, and my children, Tyler and Gabriele. ... My favorite time is having dinner with my family. My family always waits for me to arrive home, albeit late, so that we can share a meal together. It is a special time for us to talk freely about our day — the highs and the lows. There is always a lot of animation, stories, jokes and sometimes even dancing. I often just sit back watching my children in awe as they share what matters most to them. ...
If you could have one super power, what would it be? Why? ... It would be to read other [people’s] “thought bubbles.” I always thought it would be great to know what others are thinking versus what they actually say. Honesty is extremely important to me, and is critical when building relationships. I appreciate people who can say what they really believe and not what they think I want to hear.
Tell us something about yourself most people would be surprised to learn. ... I was fortunate to provide the “gift of life” to my father. Six years ago, I donated one of my kidneys to [him]. It was the most amazing experience [of] my life. ... I am proud to have had the opportunity to be an organ donor, and I continue to support and talk to others who are on that journey and in the process of making their decision to be an organ donor.
Did you miss last month's Takeaway? Walgreens' president of pharmacy and retail ops Richard Ashworth shared lessons from London and why mistakes are really investments in success. Click here to read the in-depth interview.