. 21
( 39 .)


a map of Antarctica today, you can still see the Walgreen Coast, running
a thousand miles along the Amundsen Sea.
Charles Walgreen™s greatest legacy, however, is not a glowing eulogy or
the foundations, or a seacoast, but the 4,000-plus stores that bear his name
and the 150,000 people who work them. The little shop with the big ideas
that he and Myrtle started a century ago has grown into something special.
That Walgreen™s simple but powerful ideas of service, convenience, and
caring could outlive him by six decades and counting is legacy enough for
any man.

defusing a palace coup

When Chuck became the executive assistant to his father in 1935, he
soon discovered that not everyone was fit to work at Walgreens and that
it was now his job to ferret some of them out.
Shortly after Chuck moved into the office next door, Charles gave him
a case to investigate that he would never forget. It seemed that one of the
Walgreens tobacco buyers had a chauffeur dressed in lavender to drive his
matching Cadillac to the Bowen Avenue headquarters each morning. The
chauffeur waited there for the buyer the entire day, until it came time to

130 america™s corner s tore

drive him home that night. Chuck knew the buyer was paid well”even
during the Depression, Walgreens could place an order for 6 million cigars
without blinking”but he didn™t think the buyer was paid well enough to
afford such extravagance.
Suspicious, Chuck called a friend of his from the Rotary Club, who also
happened to run the local office of the Burns Detective Agency. This
gumshoe looked into the cigar buyer™s background and discovered his r©-
sum© had been fabricated from whole cloth, starting with his claim of
being a fire commissioner in an Ohio city. Far worse, the detective found
that the buyer was skilled at soliciting kickbacks from tobacco companies
and also had convinced a prophylactics manufacturer to pay him a 5 per-
cent commission”even though he didn™t purchase the products for
The last charge particularly irked Chuck because he had once been the
company™s purchaser of prophylactics, and he knew the suspect had no role
in the purchase. The young vice president passed his findings on to his fa-
ther, who pulled the buyer into his office for a brief conference. The buyer
confessed his sins, gave back the money, and left the company without
charges being brought.63 The incident served as an eye-opener for Chuck
and prepared him for harder battles ahead.
Just before World War II erupted, a much smaller war broke out at
Walgreen headquarters on Bowen Avenue. One of the combatants,
Charles Walgreen Jr., was as reluctant as Switzerland to fight; but the other
party, Justin Dart, forced his hand. It was the kind of power struggle that is
de rigueur at most corporations but almost unheard of in the placid hall-
ways”New Yorkers would say “dull””of Walgreens™ executive offices.
Justin Dart was the kind of dashing young man who could have played
himself in the movie version of Walgreens™ history. Dart attended
Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he met Charles Sr.™s
daughter, Ruth. The two married in 1929, the same year Dart started his
Walgreens career as a stock boy.
Marrying the boss™s daughter didn™t hurt Dart™s prospects, of course, but
Dart™s quick climb to director of Walgreens™ store operations in just three

nothing to f ear 131

years had more to do with his native talent and unabashed ambition than
it did with nepotism. (This theory held up after Dart and Ruth were di-
vorced in 1938; a year later, the board promoted Dart to general manager.)
He played an important role in developing the Super Stores that
Walgreens rolled out around the country in the mid-1930s, but Dart™s rav-
enous ego compelled him to exaggerate his part whenever he related the
story to others, inside or outside the company.
Worse, Dart™s oft-repeated claim that he pulled in a quick $400,000 for
the company immediately after Congress repealed Prohibition in
December 1933 by selling off Walgreens™ stock of whiskey, which was only
available by prescription under the Eighteenth Amendment, was com-
pletely fatuous. Walgreens didn™t have nearly enough whiskey in stock to
meet the coming demand. Walgreen Sr. knew it; so, as mentioned earlier,
he had sent his buyers to Europe to ensure that Walgreens was ready when
the amendment was repealed. Just weeks after the repeal, 60 percent of
Walgreens stores were selling spirits, enough to account for about 10 per-
cent of sales in most stores”all without any help from Mr. Dart.
Dart also didn™t conform to the long-standing company custom of
maintaining a low profile. In contrast to his colleagues, Dart was a shame-
less self-promoter. After learning to fly in 1936, Dart captained the com-
pany™s state-of-the-art Lockheed Skydart”the first corporate plane in the
country, a six-passenger machine whose two engines could zoom along at
240 miles per hour, a stunning speed for the time”to drop in on store
openings and events all over the country. He once shared the controls
with Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Charles Sr.™s good friend, on a short
sojourn from the Walgreen estate in Dixon to Chicago. After Dart radioed
the control tower at Chicago™s Midway Airport that Rear Admiral Byrd
was his copilot, an angered airport official brought a police officer along to
meet the plane when it pulled in, ready to arrest Dart for playing a prank.
“Unfortunately,” the Pepper Pod reported, “the record is blank about what
the official had to say when he saw the explorer, resplendent in service
stripes and decorations, stepping out of the NC17311.”64
Dart™s publicity stunts usually benefited the company, but that didn™t

132 america™s corner s tore

seem to be his primary concern. He often took expensive, frivolous jaunts
designed to serve only his own pleasure or ego. Before long, it became clear
to his peers that the dashing Dart™s first priority was himself.
Dart™s personality naturally carried over to the office, too, where his
mood could swing from charming to disturbing in an afternoon. At his
best, he could soothe a nervous employee, console a co-worker, or beguile
a job candidate. He was famous for his engaging personality, his generosity
toward his subordinates (to whom he would often lend hundreds of dollars
in a pinch), and his ability to inspire loyalty in his charges. But at his
worst, he was boorish, self-absorbed, and terribly temperamental, once in-
timidating an overbearing newspaper ad man by grabbing a nearby pitch-
ing wedge and ripping into a box of talcum powder, dusting the entire
room and both occupants with the stuff. He also liked to relieve stress”or
possibly just show off”by firing a handgun into a stack of telephone books
against the far wall of his office.
“Such prankish behavior,” the Kogans wrote, “could be tolerated so long
as Dart was making his contributions to the company™s welfare; but within
a few years his uninhibited ways and brashness would make him persona
non grata to the firm™s board of directors.”65
When Dart™s ego and ambition began to eclipse “the better angels of his
nature,” conflicts and tension grew. The company™s conflicts with Dart be-
came more pronounced after Charles became terminally ill in 1939.
As a concession to his failing health, Walgreen announced on August
10, four months before his death, that he was stepping down as president,
though he would serve the company as chairman of the board of directors.
As mentioned earlier, the board appointed Chuck to succeed his father
as president and also appointed the talented Mr. Dart as Walgreens™ gen-
eral manager.
The board celebrated the promotions in the Pepper Pod, stating its
collective belief that the duo would work well together and would “be
as hard-working, as hard-hitting, and as able as any company could hope
to secure.”66
But Charles sensed the potential for trouble. Knowing the end was near,

nothing to f ear 133

Charles Walgreen Sr. asked his top executives to put aside their own am-
bitions to help his 33-year-old son manage a very difficult transition to
president, and not sabotage Chuck™s efforts through a palace coup.
Everyone”including such heavy hitters as Roland Schmitt, Harry
Goldstine, Jim Ward, and Robert Knight, who had built the company
from the ground floor up”honored their mentor™s final request without
hesitation . . . everyone, that is, except Dart, who openly criticized
Chuck™s conservative approach to business decisions and made no secret
of his conviction that he would have made a better president.
Dart behaved capriciously toward his store managers, rewarding and
punishing them according to his whims, not their performance”creating
a culture of fearful yes-men, too timid to give their boss honest opinions.
Although Dart was responsible for keeping the board members fully in-
formed, he usually kept them in the dark. Given his predilection for claim-
ing full credit to the exclusion of all others, board members started a
running joke that Dart was “a one-man team.”67
“He was married to my sister, and he was considered a boy wonder at the
time, a brilliant young man,” Chuck says today. “But the unfortunate part
is, after my dad died, we couldn™t quite see eye to eye, and it seemed like
we wouldn™t be able to work together as a team.”68
By July 1941, two years into Chuck™s reign as Walgreens™ president, it
had become clear that the corporate marriage was failing. Board members
presented a resolution asking for Dart™s resignation, but Dart was not going
to go peacefully into that dark night. “This place will go to the dogs with-
out me!” he said, banging his fist on the table”unwittingly erasing any
doubts the board might have had. The resolution passed unanimously.
The company spared Dart the humiliation of a public announcement,
however, and granted his request to use the company plane to find his next
job. The Chicago Tribune ran a front-page story months later, with no juicy
details and no blame attributed for the transition. Dart joined United
Drugs™ management team”which oversaw 528 Liggett and Owl stores and
12,500 Rexall franchises”and became its president just two years later.
Dart became very wealthy and powerful, ultimately gaining control over a

134 america™s corner s tore

large chunk of the original corporation under the umbrella of Dart
Though necessary, Dart™s departure left Chuck Walgreen to lead the
family business through the nation™s most difficult economic times with-
out his most talented”if also his most troublesome”executive. “I proba-
bly would have been scared to death if I hadn™t been so close to all the key
people in the company and realized their capabilities,” Chuck said. “But
knowing that, I had full confidence that we would move right along.”69
In some ways, you could argue Dart might have been ahead of his time.
His brash, egotistical style would have made him a magazine cover boy
among the celebrity CEO set in the 1990s”but not at Walgreens, then or
now. And this is the point: Although only a handful of Walgreens™ most
senior employees can place Dart™s name today, he™s the kind of person who
would have been able to take over almost any other company and reshape
it in his image, all the while gutting the very foundation on which it was
built. Values, tradition, team spirit”these things meant little to Dart and
even less when they got in the way of his own interests.
That a palace coup didn™t work at Walgreens some 60 years ago”and
has never come close to resurfacing since”has everything to do with why
Walgreens is such a solid company today. In future years, Walgreens™ lead-
ers would be modeled on Chuck™s warm, humble demeanor, not on Dart™s
bombastic style”and that has made all the difference.
The battle for the company™s soul was fought and won in 1941.

there™s a war on

In October 1940, American men between the ages of 20 and 36 registered
for the draft: 16 million would enlist in the military, including some 2,500
Walgreens employees, about a fifth of the company™s workforce at the time;
and 291,557 Americans would make the ultimate sacrifice,70 with 48
Walgreens workers among them.71
Needless to say, during the war years, business matters took a back seat

nothing to f ear 135

to bigger issues, but business still had to be conducted. In addition to a
shortage of workers, Walgreens also had to work through shortages of tires
and gasoline for its delivery trucks; building materials for its stores; and to-
bacco, film, and canned goods for its customers. “Even maintenance was
difficult,” Chuck recalled.72 Cleansers, brooms, mops”and the people to
use them”were also in short supply.
Nonetheless, Chuck Walgreen”as patriotic as his father”asked his
employees to deduct 10 percent from each paycheck to purchase war
bonds, and they came through to the tune of $5.6 million. The stores also
encouraged their customers to buy bonds, with one booth in each restau-
rant turned over to a bond sales agent. The effort produced another $41
million for the cause, or the equivalent of the chain™s annual gross revenue
just a few years earlier. (In characteristic Walgreen fashion, Chuck gave
generously but quietly, just as he has given millions of dollars to the
University of Michigan.)
Walgreens took its support a step farther in May 1943, when the new
Pentagon opened bidding for a drugstore to fill a 6,000-square-foot space,
50 percent larger than Walgreens™ biggest Super Stores. By the standards
of the Pentagon, however, the store would be a boutique. Even before
Pearl Harbor, the need for the Pentagon building was real enough. As the
late David Brinkley wrote in his 1988 best seller, Washington Goes to War,
“the army alone had grown from 7,000 civilian employees to 41,000” and
occupied some two dozen buildings scattered throughout the Washington,
D.C., area.73 The building that Secretary of War Henry Stimson proposed
would house 35,000 employees; it would have three times more floor space
than the Empire State Building; it would run a mile in circumference; and
it would be the world™s biggest building the day it was completed. It would
be far too big to fit inside Washington, D.C., proper; so the government
searched for a tract of land in Virginia, settling on one that was partially
occupied by a public dump.
The Army asked Congress to allocate a then-staggering $35 million for
the building”solemnly promising not to go over the budget by a penny”
but the massive figure predictably drew protests anyway. “We may not

136 america™s corner s tore


. 21
( 39 .)