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worth it.
So, I took a “sabbatical,” to work in one of the stores back here
and fill prescriptions for a year. The [University of Michigan
Pharmacy] dean, Tom Rowe, was kind enough to let me back in. And
when I graduated, I had already gotten rid of my apprenticeship, so I
didn™t have to do it later, which really helped me with the Illinois
State Pharmacy Board.10

reinventing the corporation 171

Chuck Walgreen might have been largely “hands-off” with his son™s de-
cision making over the years, “but he really arranged my [Walgreens] train-
ing to a ˜T,™” Cork said. “He knew that operations was the basis for our
success, so that™s where I spent 80 to 90 percent of my time, plus a couple
years in real estate and a week or two in just about everything else.” Thus,
though Cork was only 33 when he assumed the Walgreens™ presidency, he
had already seen and done far more than most Walgreens™ employees twice
his age. Nonetheless, when Cork became president, “I used to drive myself
crazy, because I thought I had to know everything,” he said. “So what do
you do? You delegate. So that™s what I did.”11

looking for a few good men

Before you can delegate duties to your top people, you need top people.
After a gradual exodus of executives retired in the early 1970s, Cork had
some hiring to do. Of all the tough decisions Cork faced during his reign,
promoting the right people for these appointments was probably the most
When it comes to Cork™s selections, Jim Collins and his research team
maintain Walgreen took the path less traveled, and that truly made all the
difference. “We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting
a new vision and strategy,” Collins wrote. “We found instead that they first
got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right
people in the right seats”and then they figured out where to drive it. The
old adage ˜People are your most important asset™ turns out to be wrong.
People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”12
Thanks to his training, even at Cork™s young age, he already had a good
sense of the breadth of the company™s infrastructure, and he knew the peo-
ple in the field who were doing the best work.
Instead of falling for the flash-and-dash hiring practices of other large
corporations”which consists of pulling in as many big names as you
can, no matter their price or their technical backgrounds”Cork

172 america™s corner s tore

Walgreen followed key principles when he hired his top lieutenants. First,
he tapped people with pharmacy degrees already working for Walgreens,
usually in operations. Second, he gave them enough accountability to
keep them honest and enough latitude to run the show.
“Whenever we can we hire from within, we™d much rather do it that
way,” Cork said. “If you have to hire your top people from outside your
company, it just doesn™t say too much for the people you™ve got. I was
not nervous about giving them the rope they needed, because I read the
reports, I talked to the people who were in charge. I knew what was
going on.”13
Cork took his hiring practices a step farther by creating an executive
planning committee composed of his top advisors, long before most com-
panies caught on to the idea. “We just wanted to put everybody™s ideas in
the pot,” he said, “and then come up with a goal. That way everybody
would be behind it, and everybody would know where we were going.”14
“Cork would let you get about 20 to 30 percent outside what he thinks
the ballpark oughta be,” said former CEO Dan Jorndt, “because he thinks
you deserve that. But if you get too far out of line, he™d call you in, and he
might only call you in once every two years, so that™s something you really
wanted to avoid.”15
Jorndt believes Cork Walgreen also deserves credit for ignoring the daz-
zle of mergers and acquisitions for the more humble”but more important,
to a retail drugstore chain”field of operations, which covers the day-to-
day business of getting things to run correctly in a complicated corpora-
tion. “Cork got them involved in planning our long-term strategy,” Jorndt
said. “That was very important, because running stores is our business.”16
A little anecdote neatly demonstrates the difference between Wal-
greens™ approach to personnel and almost everyone else™s. Several years
ago, Walgreens endowed a chair at the University of Chicago (U-C)
School of Business in honor of John Jeuck, a former U-C professor
who had just retired from the Walgreens board. Bill Shank, a former
Walgreens vice president in charge of the legal department who served
under Cork, recalled,

reinventing the corporation 173

After the presentation, two people from Towers Perrin, a consulting
firm, came up to me and asked, ˜Do you get all of your management
personnel from University of Chicago B[usiness] school?™ I can see
where they might think so, given our proximity and our long rela-
tionship with the university; but I said, ˜As a matter of fact, the
CEO, the president, both executive vice presidents, and our opera-
tions vice president are all pharmacists.™ And they were stunned by
that. And I think that™s really the secret of the whole thing, that™s
very significant, because people like that are going to know the busi-
ness from the floor up. A lot of MBAs think it™s not the business, it™s
the management. But that™s not true. You have to know the thing
you™re doing.”17

Of course, even after Cork made the crucial decision to hire people al-
ready working for Walgreens who had degrees in pharmacy and strong
backgrounds in operations, there was still the matter of plucking a handful
of talented individuals out of the thousands upon thousands of candidates
who satisfied those criteria. Long before Collins or any other business
gurus were opining about the best ways to identify and manage good lead-
ers, Cork Walgreen was doing it instinctively. Characteristically, however,
Cork deflected any suggestion that he was ahead of the curve: “I think it™s
just a lot of luck!” he said, and he sounded like he meant it. “You just look
at a guy and figure out that he™s pretty darn smart, that he communicates
well, and that other people look up to him.”18
If so, Cork Walgreen has to go down as one of the luckiest corporate
leaders of all time. Just a few years into his presidency, he had assembled
one of the most productive management teams of any U.S. corporation of
any era, a team that would lead Walgreens from good to great over two
decades. Like the leadership team his grandfather had assembled in the
company™s first decades, Cork™s crew featured a few stars who seemed to
keep everything humming.
Chuck Hunter left Arthur Andersen in 1967 to become Walgreens™ as-
sistant controller; but his Walgreens career didn™t take off until Cork

174 america™s corner s tore

recognized his talent and appointed him vice president of administration
and chief financial officer in 1972. Hunter transformed the company™s ac-
counting system, but he is best remembered as the Father of Intercom.
While other companies were installing stand-alone computers in each
store, seeing only the productivity gains they could realize and missing the
patient service and marketing opportunities of a connected system, Hunter
recognized the power of a centrally based computer system that tied all
stores together, a system later named Intercom.
In 1978, Cork made three more crucial appointments. He tapped Vern
Brunner to head the marketing department, a move that eventually earned
Brunner a place in the National Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame. Cork
then named Glenn Kraiss, who had joined Walgreens as a soda fountain
jerk while in high school in 1949, to run store operations, a job he per-
formed with unequaled success until he retired in 1999. And finally, Cork
hired John Brown from Uniroyal in 1974 and promoted him to vice presi-
dent of distribution four years later. Brown revolutionized Walgreens™ dis-
tribution system, building six major distribution centers during his tenure.
All four appointees worked well into the 1990s, leaving the company in
infinitely better shape than they™d found it.
But even among leaders of equal stature, some were more equal than
others. All agree that Cork™s key promotion was Fred Canning. “Putting
Fred Canning in as president [in 1978] made a sea change in this com-
pany,” Jorndt said. “Cork was the strategist, and now he has this guy Fred
Canning, with so much energy, to carry it out.”19

walgreen™s wingman

Fred Canning, a native of Chicago, started his 44-year Walgreens career
humbly enough in 1946 as an apprentice pharmacist. Canning was a hard-
charging young man who looked and acted even then like a grizzled foot-
ball coach. It seemed preordained that he would quickly rise through the
local ranks, and he did, becoming the store manager in 1955. That™s when

reinventing the corporation 175

Cork, working as an administrative assistant in operations, first met
Canning and was immediately impressed. It would have been hard not to
be, watching this eager young manager take over a store that was filling
only seven prescriptions a day and turn it into the best store pharmacy in
the entire chain”an accomplishment the former company president con-
siders his greatest achievement to this day.
In 1962 the company transferred Canning to St. Louis as a district
manager; but that district had become so famously dysfunctional that cor-
porate headquarters advised Canning not to buy a house, on the assump-
tion that the district™s days were numbered. “The [St. Louis] stores were old
and run down,” Cork recalled. “It was nip and tuck whether we were even
going to stay there.”20
Canning turned the district around, however, the same way he would
help turn the entire company around decades later: by hiring good people,
attending to every detail, setting up efficient systems, and”mostly”put-
ting in lots of hard work.
Recalled Dick Servant Jr., who was a store manager in the district at
the time:

The St. Louis district seldom left town to go to a managers™ meet-
ing, but one year when Canning was our district manager, we all
met at Northland Shopping center at 4 A.M. and left in two cars.
We stopped for doughnuts on our way to headquarters at 4300
Peterson, Chicago. There, we toured the office and had lunch in
the cafeteria. Toured the sign shop, where the Christmas displays
were made. Made two stores before we left for Springfield, Illinois,
where we ate at the Black Angus Steak House. After dining, we
traveled back to our starting point, arriving at 3 A.M., 23 hours after
we left, [feeling] jump-started and inspired with the Christmas sea-
son soon to come.21

Such hours and inspiration were the rule, not the exception, of
Canning™s style.

176 america™s corner s tore

“Business wasn™t great at the Normandy Shopping center store [in St.
Louis],” Canning recalled, “and Dick Servant Jr. and I were always trying
to improve it. Traditionally, the store closed on holidays, but one time we
decided to keep it open and see what happened. Servant manned the phar-
macy, and I stayed up front. We had one other employee working with us.
Before we knew it, the place was mobbed, and we were frantically calling
in more employees.”22
By the 1980s, the Normandy store had become Walgreens™ top store for
sales and profit in the St. Louis district and even served as a test market for
Hallmark. In fact, instead of leaving the St. Louis district, as many had pre-
dicted the company would before Canning took it over, by 1982
Walgreens operated 33 stores there and sales were “sensational,” according
to Glenn Kraiss, then the senior store operations vice president. At the
end of the century, the St. Louis district had over a hundred stores and
ranked second only to Chicago for self-service sales.23
Canning™s miraculous St. Louis turnaround drew the attention of com-
pany executives. In 1965, they tapped him to become the district manager
for its Mountain district, headquartered in Denver. It turned out that the
man the company had recently annointed to be the new regional manager
there just happened to be a guy named Cork Walgreen.
“We had a tiny office with one big desk in the middle of it,” Cork re-
membered. “[Canning] sat on one side of the desk and I sat on the other,
facing each other, because the space was so limited. But we were never
there at the same time, so it wasn™t a problem. He was at his district stores,
I was on the road, visiting stores all the way from California and down to El
Paso and up to Salt Lake City, all over the West.”24
Despite their peripatetic schedules, the young businessmen got to know
each other well. “Fred was a disciplinarian, very strict, and a good speaker,
good on his feet,” Cork attested. “He was just a good guy, and we were
very close friends, at work and at home. When I lived in Denver, he lived
just a block or two away, with his wife and eight kids. We spent a lot of
time together.”25
Thus, when Cork Walgreen was called back to Chicago in 1968 and be-

reinventing the corporation 177

came president the next year, he remembered his colleague in the moun-
tains and called for him in 1972 to become director of marketing. Once re-
united in Chicago, the dynamic duo went to work.

the turnaround team

“What a combination Cork and Canning were!” Dan Jorndt exclaimed.

Cork was the quiet, shy, unassuming leader. He was not a hands-on
guy, but he had a highly developed killer instinct. He™s a killer, an ab-
solute killer. He wanted this company to be good, and he had the
wisdom to bring lots of talented operations people in to [run it]. He


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