This is the week Chain Drug Stores’ Steve Anderson officially presents a new strategy to his board. The 24 members, including CEOs of CVS, Rite Aid, Eckerd, and Walgreens, are doing a two-day fly-in for Hill meetings and their own gathering at the Four Seasons. It’s been nearly seven months since Steve was recruited to run the organization, reportedly on dissatisfaction with previous management’s inability to grow membership and achieve political victories. Steve came with a reputation for building brand, clout, and revenue from eight years as CEO of the National Restaurant Association.
Steve tells Bisnow that, following three months of strategic planning, he’s restructured the communications shop and will undertake a major image campaign to point out that pharmacists show up in polls as the most trusted professionals second only to nurses. He’ll start this year on an inside-the-Beltway radio and print campaign aimed at policy makers: “Most of them are parents,” he says. “They have to find a 24-hour drug store open so they can get some medicine for their kids; they understand the role the pharmacy plays.”
He looks pretty cool here in the atrium of his offices in Alexandria, but it’s been a tough slog to coolness. 28 years ago he says he “stumbled into” associations after working for Rep. John Anderson (no relation) and running unsuccessfully to succeed him in Congress. He joined the American Frozen Food Institute, where he worked 19 years, the last 10 as CEO. In those days, he says, it wasn’t popular to go from politics to associations. Fast forward to last year, and rumors are Russell Reynolds looked at 100 serious candidates to replace Steve at the Restaurant Association, including a deluge of interest from Congressmen and even the President’s Cabinet. (They ended up picking Dawn Sweeney, president of AARP Services.)
Steve in his office conference room, with not just the usual Hillary and George pictures, but evidence of his win as the 2004 Association Executive of the Year. He may be close to politicians but actually considers associations the fifth estate of government, keeping an eye on the three branches and media. “The role that we play in American democracy is increasing dramatically. We are the nexus between government and business.” (Raise your hand if you think Steve majored in poly sci. He did, at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, IA.)
Despite all the political pictures, Steve has other hobbies. He tickles the ivories on his baby grand at home and likes tapping his toes to Stephen Sondheim.
NACDS turns 75 next year and, in true association form, they’re holding meetings to celebrate. In April, they’ll be congratulating themselves at The Breakers in Palm Beach during their week-long annual meeting for their 175 member chains, supermarket pharmacies, and mass merchant pharmacies like Wal-Mart; and 1000 associate members who are vendors that supply them (like Johnson & Johnson, P&G, Revlon, and L’Oréal). Steve says 4000 will attend. They also have two trade shows each year, a month apart in the summer, one called Marketplace focusing on front-of-the-store issues (over the counter drugs and beauty supplies) and one called Pharmacy and Technology focusing on the back-of-the-store. One of their big objectives: expanding the role of pharmacies in the healthcare system via in-store clinics and nurse practitioners. Steve would like to reform not just the image of how important the local pharmacy is, but the reality too.