People & Perspectives

The People of WBA Podcast: Episode 1

Meet a former Boots colleague who found himself right back behind the counter when duty called, in the midst of a pandemic.

People of WBA

When we talk about being a force for good, we’re referring to the collective impact of our colleagues across the globe. But we’re more than the sum of our parts; each of these people brings their own unique background, experience, beliefs and history to the job they do at WBA.

The People of WBA is our way of lifting up the voices that allow our company to thrive. You’ll hear stories from our pharmacies, laboratories, warehouses, and offices, and discover perspectives from London to Chicago, Hong Kong to Norway.  The stories may be different, but they all share one common thread – that together, #WeAreWBA.


You can take Nathan Jordan out of Boots, but you can’t take the Boots out of Nathan Jordan.
We first heard about Nathan from a colleague of his, who kept telling us that he was the living embodiment of what makes Boots so special. Problem was, he actually doesn’t work for Boots anymore. But since that didn’t stop him from pitching in at his local store last spring when the United Kingdom was in lockdown, we figured that qualified him as an honorary person of WBA. And once you hear his story, we think you’ll agree that he’s the perfect person to kick off this series of podcasts, where we’ll be sharing unique stories from across our global company that show the amazing tapestry of voices, backgrounds and experiences that make up our collective force for good.

So – sit back, relax, and take a little journey with us over to the Isle of Wight, an island off the coast of England, where Nathan’s story begins. It all started with an apprenticeship that Nathan was a little too excited to start.

I left school, I'd moved out and I'd gone to, to do this apprenticeship on the Isle of Wight. And when I arrived, it turned out that the apprenticeship wasn't due to start for a couple of months. So I needed to get a job to see me through until those months had passed and the apprenticeship started.

When I started to make applications to see if I could find some temporary roles, and Boots were one of the first roles that came up. So I applied, and really quickly, I got an interview and then shortly after I got the job. And so that was really the start of my career at WBA: as a customer assistant in one of our Boots stores. That, for me, was really the beginning of my journey. So it's where I learned all of the basics of retail, but also, you know, how to be a working professional because before that I'd only ever been at school and I'd never had those kinds of levels of expectations around, you know, coming to work on time and, you know, acting professionally with customers and colleagues. All new skills that were taught to me by, by my colleagues at Boots, so really interesting.

Although he loved the small community feel of his store on the Isle of Wight, Nathan wanted to widen his range of experiences. So he took a role in the big city, at the first Boots flagship store at Sedley Place on Oxford Street in London. This store was, as he puts it…

… like an explosion of Boots. Like if you can imagine the best of Boots in one location, across three floors. It's huge, really airy and thousands of thousands of customers coming through the door every day.

What's really interesting is, particularly in our smaller stores or stores in those remote locations like the Isle of Wight, it was definitely a slower pace. So it was all about those really rich customer conversations and, you know, taking time to get to know the customer a bit more than just the standard “Okay, this is what you want, and let me, let me kind of check out the items that you've put.” It really centered around that what Boots is renowned for: the excellence in customer and patient care. And so when I went to London, although there was an awful lot of that still for the regulars that lived around the area, the difference for Sedley Place is that most people that come into the store, it's either the first and only time they’ll ever come to the store because they're just tourists or, you know, they're visiting from another town in the UK and they’re just coming to this big Boots on Oxford Street, as many people visit Oxford Street.

But I think where those similarities lie are the people that are local to Oxford street. And, you know, again, that's a really different kind of section of people and customers, because those who live in Central London live these really big lives. You know, I remember serving TV presenters, um, radio DJs – the BBC studios are really close to Sedley Place, so people that you see on television would just come in and then, and you know, at that time they were not the big celebrity that they are in daily life, they are just another customer in a Boots store wanting one of our services. And for me, that was just brilliant.

Along with the hustle and bustle and occasional celebrity sighting, Nathan found a common thread between his experiences on the Isle of Wight and at the store in the heart of London: the bond he forged with his co-workers. You know that saying about running into a fire for someone? In Nathan’s case, the fire was a fire alarm.

It was a couple of days before Christmas, probably around 2014, I'd say. And on Oxford street, there are a number of Boots stores, like very close together, actually. And it was late in the evening, it was about 10 o'clock. I'd called our sister Boots store which was just a couple of doors down and I think I wanted to borrow some staples or something really ridiculous. I called and on the end of the phone was just this woman crying down the phone and I was just like, “Oh my God, what's happened? How can I help?”

And it transpired that she'd managed to lock herself in the toilet of the store and then everybody had gone home. And so she'd obviously set off the fire alarm. And all of the alarms are were running across the store and there was a WBA corporate office next to the store as well. So all of these alarms were going off. So I ran down to the store and found her like in between the WBA office and the Boots store. There was like kind of a locked partition door, but through a piece of glass in the middle, I could see her. And I remember sitting there with her, talking to her through the notes app on each other's phones, like showing it to each other through the glass while we waited for the key holder and the fire brigade to arrive, to let her out. You know, we were having such a laugh about the whole situation. It was just so funny that she'd managed to get herself into this situation, but then also more so that she was safe and that someone was coming to help her. But I think, again, it just really showed to me another side of how colleagues come together to support one another and, you know, not just leave an issue or just not support one another.

Next stop for Nathan was a Boots located at an airport. Which is an appropriate segue, since while he was there, an opportunity popped up that would make the next stage of his career take off…

I wanted to understand as much as I could about, um, how our business operated. And it was at that time that Boots also announced a work experience program, which was aimed at school-leavers that hadn't had any other kind of qualifications after leaving school. And it was open to everybody. And basically what that meant was you could apply to this program and if successful, you'd be brought to the support office in Nottingham for one week and experience different departments within the support office. So I think for me, that was really, I guess, the real formative step in forming a real career with the organization. And that's where I guess the values and also the sense of belonging I had to Boots really started.

I was really lucky enough to be able to convert that into an actual role. So I moved to Nottingham to work for Boots initially in the customer support center. And I remember taking a call from a patient that had run out of some really important pain relief patches that they needed, and it was a manufacturing kind of stock issue. So nowhere had it, nor did any of the local pharmacies around him and he called. Our customer support center really is the last line of defense. So this patient was in extreme pain and didn't have anywhere to turn. There was no other product for him, that soothed the pain that he had, and so he really wanted this product. And so by listening to his kind of, calls for help, I really understood that I had to do something to help him. So I contacted the manufacturer and worked with my line manager at the time, making sure I was doing everything within process and was able to find two remaining patches of medication that he needed. I was able to get those patches delivered from the manufacturer to his local pharmacy and then his local pharmacy delivered it to him. And this all happened in the space of a day. So he called in the afternoon and by the late evening he had these patches. And for me, the fact that Boots were doing something that they knew, you know, they wouldn't make any money off. So it was purely for the fact that this man has called the headquarters and he has asked for something, and we know that we're his last point of call. That for me was really, I guess, eye-opening and actually really understanding the care and the lengths of care that Boots will go to, to ensure that every patient or customer that touches the organization receives the best level of patient care. For me, that cemented how I see the business and also really how I want to kind of represent it as a steward of, of the iconic brand.

And steward he was. Even though he’d moved on to a role at a different company, when the pandemic hit, Nathan’s first thought was about his colleagues and customers back at Boots.

When COVID-19  really hit in this country, for me, it was a thinking of “Okay, so if I still worked for Boots, I'd be in the thick of this.” You know, I'd be out in stores or potentially I'd be at one of our testing centers that we'd set up. And I was really just thinking, “how can I contribute to this cause?” The organization that I currently work in, they did an awful lot themselves to respond to coronavirus and they directly helped governments. But the place of purpose for me, is always on the ground. How do you actually help customers and patients and, you know, even Boots colleagues? And so for me, that kind of level of thinking made me think, “Well, you know, if ordinarily I would be in a Boots store helping out, how do I make that happen for me now?”

And so, you know, as I mentioned earlier, everybody lives within about five minutes of a Boots store. So I knew that my local Boots store was very close. I'd only just moved to this town to start this job. So I hadn't been out of the Boots store before, but I just knew that it was the right thing to do. So at home, I wrote a letter to the store manager and, you know, in essence, that letter kind of outlined my experience within the organization and also, you know, really highlighting the fact that the magic of our shared brand, WBA, comes from colleagues working together and by doing that, we become an unstoppable force for good. And so for me, it was just about really articulating that I wanted to help in any way that I could. So I posted this letter to the door and a few days later I was in the store meeting with the team and the store manager, really just setting out what I could do.

I was able to work collaboratively with my new employer and Boots to work out some hours that would work for both of us. And so what I ended up doing was doing a couple of hours each day in the afternoons for Boots, helping out in the pharmacy, helping out with stock management, serving customers in the till, you know, all the other functions that we do as a Boots store, because I just knew that I wanted to look back on the pandemic and know that I had made a difference and not just sat back and just watched the world go by.

I asked Nathan what he thought it was about Boots that made it so special. From where I sit at WBA headquarters in the United States, there’s just something so iconic about the brand – it’s the kind of place I associate with England, and the first place I want to pop into when I arrive. His answer?

You know, I think it's really, it's really simple actually. So it comes back to how long the business has been around. 171 years this year. I like to think of it like this: there is not one person alive on earth today that, in this country, hasn't had Boots in the life from day one. And so when you think about that, you know, it's from birth. Your parents would have gone to a Boots store at some point to get the myriad of supplies that you need to be a baby. And then as a teenager, you probably would have gone to Boots to buy your first makeup products, if that's what you're looking for. Even for, you know, sexual health advice and contraception, Boots would have been that place for you.

And so I think in every stage of everybody's life in this country, Boots has played a very formative part in accessing services or being able to access products. And so I think that is what has cemented it so much into the nation's psyche, and that trust is undoubtedly there is because your parents went there, your grandparents went there. But I think also more than that. Boots is often seen in this country … it's probably the front line of health care as an extension to our National Health Service. It is the front line of healthcare. You often go there first before going to access healthcare services. So for many people in this country, it's just seen as your first port of call and it's everywhere. Nobody in this country is more than five minutes away from a Boots store. And that is, is unrivaled. There's no other brand that can beat that.

We tend to agree, Nathan. Thanks to Nathan Jordan for sharing his story, and to you for listening and getting to know one of the amazing People of WBA.