People & Perspectives

WBA senior leaders share COVID-19 lessons learned

If there’s one thing they can all agree on, it’s that business will never be the same – and that’s a good thing.

By Hannah Robinson
WBA signage
WBA signage

They say you learn something new every day, and that phrase couldn’t be truer than during a year-long global pandemic. While some of us became culinary connoisseurs with freshly baked batches of banana bread, the more athletically ambitious decided to dust off their yoga mats or resurface their running shoes.

However, the results of some of our lockdown learnings are a lot less tangible than burned bakes and pulled muscles. Life during the pandemic has been harder than anyone could have imagined, and for many, our eyes have been opened to the true value of family and friends, face-to-face interactions and unwavering healthcare services.

But what about at WBA?

WBA Magazine spoke to six senior leaders from across our global business as they reveal what the pandemic has taught them both personally and professionally.

Matt Addison
Matt Addison – operations director, Alliance Healthcare UK

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen Alliance Healthcare face possibly the most challenging period of its history. Our operations colleagues have played such a critical part in supporting the NHS and patients across the UK. We are classified as essential workers by the UK government, and without our people, the country would not have made it this far.

My Alliance Healthcare operations colleagues have astounded me throughout the last year, and their stories of resilience, teamwork, and going the extra mile are many. I’ve always believed that working collaboratively and trusting in my leadership team has been key to our combined success, and the impact of the pandemic has only served to reinforce this belief. For a portion of 2020, I also faced a personal challenge and if I hadn’t been able to leave work behind and trust my team to lead our operation to success, then I don't believe I would have been able to successfully overcome the obstacles I faced.

During the pandemic, we’ve taken steps to restructure the operations leadership team, and that is in no small part due to the management changes and responsibilities that we had to employ during this period. I have great leaders in place to run the service center network, cross dock center and transport organization. This will continue beyond the pandemic and will become the new Alliance Healthcare way of working.

Carlos Cubia, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer for WBA
Carlos Cubia, senior vice president and global chief diversity officer, WBA

What’s most revealing to me is what we thought we knew. We thought we were all in the same boat and that everyone – no matter their race, nationality or political party – would pull together and fight this thing because it was affecting everyone around the world.

That didn’t happen. Instead, we saw the devastating effects of health disparities and witnessed the fragility of marginalized and underserved communities. Once that realization dawned on people who weren’t previously paying attention, I felt a new sense of urgency; an urgency to address health inequities and to push for a bold vision and bold initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion.

If there is one positive to come out of the pandemic, it’s that people are realizing we can’t go back to “normal,” because “normal” wasn’t working for everyone. We have to make changes, and I’m proud that WBA will be leading the way.

Ben Horner
Ben Horner – human resources director, Boots UK

Prioritization and time management are the most essential skills I’ve had to master during the pandemic, both at work and at home. There have been so many competing pressures we’ve all faced in ensuring our professional responsibilities to our customers, patients and colleagues have been met, while simultaneously caring for our parents, our partners and our children. For me, collaboration has been key to unlocking success – trusting and empowering our teams in our support office, warehouses, stores and pharmacies, focusing on our responses to the “Our Voice. Our Future” colleague survey learnings and, personally, ensuring my four kids can meet their homeschooling schedules.

Going forward, I feel that I’m now better equipped than ever to make decisions on a professional and personal basis, safe in the knowledge that those around me know how I work, how I support and care for them, and how they support me. We have all had to care for and rely upon one another in new ways this year and, if we maintain that collaborative approach, I truly believe we will all be better for it.

Annie Murphy sitting at her computer
Annie Murphy – senior vice president, global chief commercial brands officer and international retail

There’s a lot that we can take from this challenging period, but three things stand out for me.

First, we have amazing people, and it’s vital that we work hard to stay really connected to them. We knew it was critical to give our teams a strong sense of belonging and connectivity, so we ramped up our efforts to stay connected to our people, at all levels. One example is a weekly video I recorded that went to all our teams across the world, letting them know we cared and appreciated their resilience and hard work, and giving them the latest business updates.

Second, you need to have a real-time understanding of how consumers are behaving, and you have to move fast to be there for them. The shift to digital and e-commerce has been seismic. We quickly and radically adjusted our plans to be not just digital-first, but in some instances, digital-only. In doing so, we’ve built our knowledge, our agility and our conviction about how to win in the digital space.

Third, you must adopt an entrepreneurial, can-do mindset and learn, learn, learn. At the outset of the pandemic, we committed as a leadership team to be entrepreneurs – to be bold, act fast and learn a lot. For example, we mobilized our No7 beauty advisors so they could provide virtual consultations. Consumers loved them, advisors loved them, and what we learned will help us significantly accelerate our digital strategy.

Alyssa Raine
Alyssa Raine – group vice president, customer marketing platforms, Walgreens

The last 12 months have been a learning curve for all of us, and I’ve taken away two key lessons that I know will impact the work I do in the future.

First, digital and physical work very well together to unlock great customer and patient experiences that not only help the people we serve, but also help drive the business forward. Walgreens has always been a center for the community that offers access to health. When we combine physical and digital to create a more meaningful experience, leveraging both mass personalization and our very authentic brand, we are providing customers and patients with a reason to continue to choose Walgreens.

Second, health matters. Whether it’s yourself, your family, your friends, your broader community or your team members, we need to look out for one another. As a company rooted in health, it’s important that we focus on all aspects of well-being, and I couldn’t be more excited about the work we’ve done across the organization to bring myWalgreens to life, which helps unlock personal health and wellbeing experiences for customers, patients and team members. I am exceptionally thankful that I get to work on that every day at Walgreens, as well as in my personal life.

Rina Shah
Rina Shah – group vice president of Pharmacy Operations, Walgreens

Without a doubt, this past year spent leading Walgreens pharmacy COVID-19 response and vaccine rollout has been the most impactful of my career. It’s demonstrated what our organization can achieve in service to our customers and patients.

From the declaration of a worldwide pandemic, to shelter-in-place orders and so much more, we as pharmacists adapted to best meet the needs of our patients. The resilience and agility I’ve seen from our pharmacy and store teams has been incredible. We were among the first to volunteer to administer COVID-19 tests, we’ve served communities that have been greatly impacted by inequity and we’re now supporting the vaccine rollout by immunizing patients across the nation.

The purpose and mission for pharmacy has never been greater, and I’ve learned that we play a critical role in being able to help the nation recover from COVID-19. But our efforts will not stop there. We have been able to expand the scope of pharmacists and technicians to support immunizations and testing services, and we have offered new services to help make our customers’ lives a little easier, including a prescription delivery service. I am so proud of what our teams have accomplished so far and look forward to seeing the difference we’ll make in improving the health outcomes of our patients.

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