Dennis Wiesner’s ever-evolving industry career
A lot has changed in the world of pharmacies over the last 50 years or so.
Just ask Dennis Wiesner.
Wiesner, who until earlier this year was the senior director of pharmacy, privacy and government affairs at H-E-B, has seen a lot go on in this industry in a career that has lasted nearly half a century. Most of it, he said, is good for retailers and consumers. All of it has been interesting.
Wiesner retired from H-E-B in mid-September, bringing to a conclusion a successful 47-year career as a retail pharmacist and pharmacy director at two major retail operations. During that time, Wiesner played a key role in helping both companies develop and implement their pharmacy strategies and, in the case of H-E-B, helped to take a fledgling pharmacy business and turn it into a major department for what had been a grocery-focused organization.
For these reasons and many more, including his longstanding devotion to the industry, Drug Store News is proud to award Wiesner with our 2017 Pharmacy Innovator Award.
“When I began my tenure here at H-E-B in January 2007, Dennis was the ‘trusted advisor’ that every new leader should have,” said Craig Norman, senior vice president, pharmacy at H-E-B. “His insight, knowledge and tenure in the company proved to be priceless in assisting my navigation of our business and creating the road map for the future. Dennis was always the voice of reason when my team and I would come up with crazy ideas to build on our success.”
Wiesner’s journey in the world of retail pharmacy began after he graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy. With options limited at that point for pharmacists, Wiesner turned to Eckerd Drug, where he spent much of the next 17 years working in various roles. That included serving as a community pharmacist at various Eckerd stores in the southwest, as well as working as a store manager and, eventually, a district supervisor responsible for as many as 25 stores.
Wiesner joined H-E-B in May 1987, serving in a store operations role managing store operations at the San Antonio-based grocery store chain. “H-E-B was a new company in the pharmacy industry, and I liked the concept that they wanted to get more involved with the industry,” he said. “I think I was very fortunate to be there from the beginning of the company’s move into pharmacy.”
Others at the company think H-E-B was fortunate to get Wiesner to join its team. “At that time, we were pretty much strictly a grocery company,” said Donna Montemayor, the chain’s senior director of professional services, marketing and strategic initiatives. “We really did not have any formalized processes or training with the pharmacy. Dennis helped to put those things into place and, I believe, helped take us
to where we are today with our pharmacy operation.”
Currently, H-E-B operates about 330 stores, all in Texas, with about 265 units operating pharmacy counters.
After joining the H-E-B team, Wiesner quickly worked his way up the ladder, joining the corporate management team when he became a pharmacy systems manager in 1988. In 1998, Wiesner was promoted to the director of pharmacy technology. He became director of privacy, regulatory and governmental affairs in 2002 and interim pharmacy leader of the company in 2005, before entering his last position in January 2007.
“I have seen it all over the course of my career and, frankly, it has been an extremely rewarding and interesting journey,” he said. “At the same time, it has been a career in an industry that is always changing and progressing.”
“In fact, I think the progression of the pharmacy has been profound and exciting. The delivery of health care has changed dramatically over the years, and the pharmacy has played a key part in all of that.”
How different is it today than back in the early 1970s? Well, Wiesner said that when he graduated from college, pharmacists did not have the use of computers to aid their work and the inventory — with no generic products available — was extremely small. “Think about that. No computers to do your job. Could we survive today without computers at the pharmacy counter?” he said. “Also, during my first year on the job in Texas, we could not put the name of the drug on the label, and if a customer had a question — one that I could probably have easily answered — I still had to refer [the patient] to a doctor for the answer.
“Look at where we are today and at all the services we can offer through the pharmacy. Pharmacists can get involved in immunization programs, healthcare screenings and diagnostic testing, for example. The growing diversity of this profession, and the fact that pharmacists can be involved in so many different facets today, has made me realize just how important the pharmacy is for the patient and for the organizations that are involved with the industry.”
Wiesner is not completely going into retirement. He remains a board member of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy into 2019 when his second term expires. He was the vice president of the board from 2010 to 2014. “Being a member of that board has been an extremely rewarding experience for me,” he said. “It is an honor to serve both the citizens and the professionals of my state and to serve as an advocate for them. It has really helped me to understand where the profession and business of the pharmacy is headed, and gave me a chance to meet so many of our members.”
Wiesner also was a very active member of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, serving as chairman of the NACDS Pharmacy and Technology Conference in 2009, the Policy Council in 2011 and the PBM Operations Committee in 2011. He received the association’s prestigious Harold W. Pratt award in 2013.
“Dennis has contributed substantially to H-E-B’s success, to the advancement of the industry and of the profession, and to the improvement of patient care for H-E-B customers and for all Americans,” said Steven C. Anderson, president and CEO of the Arlington, Va.-based trade association. “In recognition of everything he has done through NACDS for this purpose, we bestowed on him NACDS’ highest honor — the Harold W. Pratt Award at our first NACDS Total Store Expo in 2013. He is an ideal recipient of DSN’s Pharmacy Innovator Award.”
Wiesner sees it a bit differently. While he appreciates the accolades he is getting from former colleagues and industry officials, he thinks that they actually helped his career more than he helped them. “It is incredible how many interesting people I met through my work at Eckerd and H-E-B and through the Texas State Board of Pharmacy and NACDS,” he said. “So many people touched me and mentored me, and helped me grow in this industry. I hope I can stay in touch with as many people as possible.”
In fact, Wiesner hopes he stays totally immersed in the industry going forward. While he is eager to spend more time with his four grandchildren, he said that he will stay up to date with legislative issues impacting the pharmacy, and hopes to throw his opinion in when asked. He would love to
work with younger pharmacists and help them gain a better understanding of the importance of their relationships with consumers.
“I also want to get involved with volunteerism and give back to the world,” he said. “My time with Eckerd and H-E-B was great. I could not ask for better employers and colleagues to work with. I cannot think of a better career path than what I had. I feel