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Walgreens visionary Vern Brunner loses cancer battle

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD, Ill. Merchant extraordinaire Vern Brunner once described his boss, former Walgreens chairman and CEO Dan Jorndt, as “a good listener, a great idea guy and a great merchant” with “spectacular people skills,” as well as “a firm believer in technology and the importance of information.”

All those words of praise could just as easily have described Brunner himself. One of retailing’s most popular and highly regarded merchandising visionaries, Brunner died Wednesday morning at the age of 68 after a long battle with cancer.

Walgreens issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon confirming Brunner’s passing and praising the former executive.

“Walgreens wouldn’t have reached its market-leading position without Vern Brunner. He was a marketing genius with an amazing work ethic and a great many friends both at and outside of Walgreens,” the company noted. “He was as generous as he was talented, and he’ll be missed by many.”

A gentle bear of a man who combined an imposing physical presence and a sharp intellect with a respectful, good-humored manner that instantly put people at ease, Brunner was a career Walgreens employee. He retired in January 2001 as EVP marketing, relinquishing that post to future president and CEO Jeff Rein after a 39-year career with the company. During his long tenure, he was the architect of many of the elements of data-driven but intuitive merchandising and marketing that sparked the company’s remarkable resurgence and rise to national retail leadership in the 1970s and 1980s.

Brunner earned numerous accolades for his role in Walgreens’ remarkable success over the past three decades, including the Robert B. Begley Award from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and REX Retail Merchant of the Decade by Drug Store News.

Upon his retirement from Walgreens in 2001, Brunner was lauded by those who had worked with him, both inside and outside of Walgreens. Among those honoring him was Dan Jorndt, who said Brunner had “a major impact on the overall success of Walgreens for nearly four decades.

“We wouldn’t be in our current, market-leading position without him,” said Walgreens’ former CEO. “Walgreens and its customers have benefited greatly from Vern’s perceptive, intelligent, creative approach to marketing and merchandising.”

Brunner began at Walgreens as a pharmacy intern in 1962, moving into store management two years later. After serving in district management, he was promoted to director of store merchandising in 1975. By 1982, he was senior vice president of marketing, and rose to executive vice president in 1989 and company director the following year.

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Take Care Health Systems opens new clinic in Philadelphia area

BY Antoinette Alexander

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. Take Care Health Systems, which is owned by Walgreens, announced the opening of a new clinic in the Philadelphia area.

The new clinic marks the 11th Take Care Clinic in that market.

In total, the company operates 342 clinics in 35 markets throughout 19 states.

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United Drugs’ size to double with API merger

BY Bruce Kneeland

United Drugs
CEO: Bruce Semingson
Corp. Offices: Phoenix
Number of Members: 1,008 (more than 2,000 if merger is approved)
Web page: www.uniteddrugs.com

United Drugs and the Associated Pharmacies Inc. on Feb. 23 announced that the organizations’ boards of directors voted to merge. If the merger is approved, the new group’s membership will exceed 2,000.

One driving force behind the merger is that United Drugs does not have a warehouse, while API does. Bruce Semingson, CEO of Phoenix-based United Drugs, said having the ability to actually purchase products and distribute to 2,000 stores will increase the group’s ability to purchase generic drugs, as well as select OTC and other items, at attractive prices. According to the two organizations, API is eager to tap into the benefits of United Drugs’ successful managed care network. And, Semingson added, while both organizations have members across the country, United Drugs’ strength is in the West while API’s is in the East, adding to the anticipated benefit of the merger.

That said, “Perhaps United Drugs’ main claim to fame is our managed care contracting programs, whose combined strength and professional management have put independents in a position to negotiate with PBMs and other payers,” Semingson said.

One unique feature of the United Drugs network is they let members join one of three reimbursement levels. It also lets individual members sign onto contracts the group declined. This way, each pharmacy gets the maximum benefit of the group’s negotiating power, combined with individual store flexibility.

The managed care program provides for central billing, electronic funds transfer, pre-post edits, adjudication and reconciliation services, all of which help speed up and improve reimbursement. Built into the program is an MTM program, enhanced counseling and even immunization programs that help the group win contracts and provide pharmacies an opportunity to earn additional service fees. They also have a cash card program that supports a fixed-fee generics program, the most popular service being a 90-day supply for $12.00. Semingson said every United Drugs pharmacy must agree to participate in the quality assurance program, patterned after NCQA criteria, before they are allowed to dispense prescriptions as a United Drugs provider.

Two years ago, United Drugs completely revamped its preferred partners program, and it said the success of its new way of working with preferred partners has been well received. Liz Schrader, VP operations and finance, explained that the program moved from a passive endorsement of vendors selected primarily for their willingness to provide discounts to a proactive, RFP-based selection process. Vendors in a variety of technology and service programs were invited to bid on the rights to be included, and United Drugs’ team members interviewed potential partners and checked references with members on the performance of each vendor. Vendors were selected and put into various levels of support, and United Drugs’ field support and team leaders are tasked to help members select these preferred vendors when they make purchasing decisions.

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