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THE TAKEAWAY: Richard Ashworth, president pharmacy and retail ops, Walgreens

BY DSN STAFF

Potential trumps experience, lessons from London and why mistakes are really investments in success — Walgreens’ president of pharmacy and retail ops tees it up with DSN.

Richard, you got your first job working for Walgreens in 1992 as a clerk in a store — what was it about the business that made you want to pursue a career in pharmacy and/or retail? What, if anything, did those early experiences teach you about business or people that you take with you in your career today? My father, two uncles, one aunt, two cousins and my wife have all worked for the company, so in addition to my own job, I guess you could say Walgreens is part of my DNA. The various roles I’ve played throughout my career have helped to broaden my perspective, but I always made sure I stayed close to the stores because I love the front-line work.  The people nature of this business — the “helping” of patients and customers — felt like we had a higher purpose than “selling” items on the shelf. I saw how it made the difference in customers’ lives — big and small. They rely on us to be a part of their health-and-wellness journey, and that is powerful. I also know from my own time in the stores that how our team members feel about their jobs and what they are hearing from customers are critical to our success. Today, I travel around the country meeting with our store team members finding out what they love about Walgreens, and where we can make things better.

Prior to your current role, you spent some time working on the Boots side of the business in the United Kingdom. How do you think that experience has influenced your management/leadership philosophy/style? Working at Boots was a fantastic opportunity. Being part of a global organization provides opportunities that are not available to everyone. Experiencing a different healthcare marketplace was a steep learning curve, but has some parallels to what is happening in the United States as well. One thing I gained from my time at Boots was their incorporation of the “why” in their change story. At Walgreens, we are always about the how, which is why we are very good at operations and have achieved great success over the years. But I liked the contextual learning at Boots, how they tell the change story more broadly to take people on the journey — even as customers and the retail industry are changing at a rapid pace.

In a post on your alma mater Nova Southeastern University’s website, you’re quoted saying, “Leaders often prioritize experience over potential.” Why do you think that can be a mistake for an organization? I think both have significance, but I also think it’s a mistake to look at experience as more important. Experience tells us how long a person has been doing something and the variety of things that person has done through the course of his or her career. Potential indicates what a person is capable of — their ability to learn and adapt, how they lead even when they are not in an official position of power, their critical thinking skills. As a leader, I look at the whole picture, and I don’t place inflated value on the number of years a person has been working.

What was the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you? When I was pharmacy supervisor, I worked for a district manager with more than 40 years of experience who said, “All things being equal, hire the one with the smile.” In all of my wisdom at the age of 25, I thought I knew better by using behavioral interviewing techniques. Over my career, I have found that employees who are happy — and happy with themselves — are the best contributors. All things being equal on the capability front, hire the smile.

How should a person react to success? Success can be short lived, so I think it should be enjoyed. We should take the time to celebrate with the team that helped achieve the success. I have received constructive feedback from my team over the years that every time I say ‘thank you’ or ‘great job,’ I add a “however.” This comes from the part of me that is always striving to do more and be better for customers, but I realize it takes away from the recognition. While I don’t want to let success make us complacent, stopping for a moment to celebrate and then looking at what we can do better to build is the right approach.

How should a person react to failure? “Failure” sounds so final and, like success, it’s a moment in time. I had an employee once — an up-and-coming talent — who made a fairly large mistake when I was overseeing our PBM subsidiary years ago. He thought I was going to fire him, but I told him we invested a lot of money for him to learn from that experience. Of course we can’t have too many of these, but we are all bound to make a mistake or fail at some point in time. A failure does not define you, but if you repeat the same mistakes, that will follow you for a long time. If you view mistakes as “investments” in learning and get better because of it, I think that signals someone who is self-aware, willing to learn and is both humble enough to admit the mistake and confident enough to move forward.

If you could be anywhere other than where you are right now, where would you be? It’s a three-way tie between the golf course, a sunny beach and watching cars on the racetrack.

When you’re not at work, what’s your favorite thing to do? Why? Spending time with my family is No. 1, but I have to admit golf is a close second. My kids help me stay grounded and detach from work. When I am with them, I set everything else aside so we all get quality time. Golf is a close second because it challenges my brain in a different way. Like work, it requires focus, aim and practice to reach the goal (sink the ball), so it’s both a great stress outlet and keeps me sharp in a different way.

Looking back on your career, what would you say you are most proud of? There are a lot of great moments, but I am most proud of the way I have worked with others to be constructive and positive versus destructive and difficult. Supporting and coaching people as they advance their careers and achieve positions where they can make the most difference is very satisfying to me. I am also extremely proud of the customer-first mentality I promote and the evolution we have taken at Walgreens. We’ve worked hard to stay true to the core values and aspirations on which the company was founded, but in a modern, relevant context.

What was the best book you have read most recently? I just re-read ‘The Speed of Trust’ by Stephen R. Covey. I love how this book inspires me to keep working on trust — either organizationally or relationally — and how that trust brings speed to an organization. I always want to go faster, and I find this book re-energizes me to do that.


Did you miss last month's Takeaway? DSN spoke with CHPA president and CEO Scott Melville about his "mean" Nixon impersonation and how it may have led him to his career at the intersection of business and politics. Click here to read the in-depth interview.

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Target’s innovation head to depart

BY Marianne Wilson

MINNEAPOLIS — Target is losing a senior digital executive.

Casey Carl, chief innovation and strategy officer, is leaving the retailer, effective May 5. His departure, first reported by The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, comes as the chain has been reducing some of its innovation initiatives, including a store of the future with robots, to focus on efforts that have a faster payback.

Casey joined Target in 1997, and held a variety of roles in merchandising, negotiations, operations and digital. Prior to being named to his current position, he was president of omnichannel and senior VP of enterprise strategy.

Target CEO Brian Cornell announced Carl's upcoming departure in an e-mail to headquarters employees.

"Innovation is alive and well at Target," Cornell wrote. "Our new leader's job will be to build upon the progress we've made. And while this leader will play a critical role in Target's innovation story, it's not a story they will write alone. Innovation must be a mind-set, an essential component of every business, every strategy and every team."

Carl is credited for such projects as Target Open House in San Francisco, which showcases smart technologies in a futuristic home-like setting, and Target’s retail accelerator program, done in partnership with Techstars.

In his own email to employees, Carl wrote that he hopes to continue to explore disruptive strategies for growth and innovation, the report said.

“It's no secret that there's been a lot of change recently at Target and this is the right time for me to pursue what I'm most passionate about and builds upon what I've started here," he wrote. 

Click here for more. 

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