Everything You Want To Say But Didn't Know How To Say It
This email was sent back in February by an hourly assistant manager to the CEO of Walgreens, Greg Wasson, right after our pay cut was announced. It was forwarded to me from a friend of the author, and I deleted the author's name to protect his privacy. It is lengthy, but well worth the read for anyone that still has a thorn in their side. I know I do.
To Greg Wasson, CEO, Walgreens
Pursuant to Walgreens policy and the Walgreens Open Door Policy, I am hereby formally exercising that privilege to speak with an open and frank mind about recent decisions made in Deerfield.
I am writing you to request that among the decisions being made by Corporate and the consultants you have hired, that the decision to officially scrap the Four Way Test and the Walgreens Creed become official.
After all, over the past three years, both have become increasingly irrelevant. With the decision to re-neg on the agreed upon compensation rates for MGTs, and the shady, cowardly way it was communicated (after hours, Monday afternoon, straight from Store Ops, completely bypassing the DMs), the Four Way Test and the Walgreens Creed are no longer relevant.
In the minds and hearts of many of your store employees, in fact, they are non-existent.
Before you label me as just another angry malcontent with a sharp mouth, please bear with me. Not all that long ago, I was in your same position. I was a senior managing director at a large, top-ten marketing agency. When the handful of us that were recruited in to âsaveâ this agency arrived, we found the state of the agency in dismal shape. We had just lost over 25% in capitalized billings via the loss of a major client. Adding to our frustration and angst was a struggling economy.
But, unlike your consultants and inner circle, we made the decision to take care of our employees and clients first before we took care of the analysts and brokers on Wall Street. We chose to take care of the staffers who were doing the work before we took care of those of directing the work. Yes, we had to make some job cuts, but again, unlike your consultants and senior executives in Deerfield, we chose to cut those directly responsible for the agencyâs rapid descent.
We didnât start in the middle of the ranks, or at the lower end. We started at the top of each department and group. And those who were responsible for the agency having lost valued clients such as Frito Lay and Taco Bell due to mismanagement, poor decision-making, complete lack of leadership, cronyism, and an attitude of âwell, thatâs how weâve always done thingsâ found themselves terminated. No severance package. No parachute. Sure as hell no early retirement.
In other words, those who had mismanaged the business were not rewarded or praised or excused. They were fired. Period.
Unlike Walgreensâ corporate, we did not go looking for mid-level copywriters and account executives and media buyers and inform them that we were reducing their salary and compensation packages due to the poor decisions of upper management that got us into this mess. Those employees, much like the assistant managers here at Walgreens, were not the problem. Our senior people that mismanaged the business and who made the bad decisions were the ones shown the door..
I saw the blurb the PR spinners sent out regarding Wal-Mart cutting seven-hundred-plus jobs from its Bentonville, AR, headquarters. I know several of the senior marketing executives for Wal-Mart, and I know the principles at their two advertising agencies (Bernstein Rein, Kansas City, and GSD&M, Austin, TX) extremely well. And there is also more to this story than what was sent out to our stores by the spinners. Quite a bit more, actually. Wasnât hard to find, either. The Wall Street Journal did a nice piece on it.
Wal-Mart cut the fat and the bad decision-makers from its headquarters.. That money is being reallocated to their store levels, where, and I quote from one of their marketing VPs, âWhere the revenue is generated and where the revenue will always be generated.â
I see excuse after excuse coming from Deerfield about a challenging economy. Yes, it is challenging. But strong leaders find strong solutions that result in strong motivation. Easiest thing in the world is to cut the jobs or salaries of employees you know youâll never see and never have to face. Hardest thing to do is to look the senior staff in eye that youâve seen everyday for the past five years and tell him, âFred, I hate to say it but youâve made far too many bad decisions in the last few years and weâre paying the price. As much as I like you, youâre out of a job.â
The single worst decision made in Deerfieldâand continuing to be madeâis putting the shareholder in front of the employees and customers.
The most successful airline in the history of this nation is Southwest Airlines. Herb Kelleher never gave a ratâs rear end about Wall Street. He and Colleen simply continued to build, grow and run their airline by putting their employees first with the caveat that they take care of Southwestâs customers in a manner that would put all other airlines to shame. In doing so, they created a customer service reputation that is legendary.
Southwest also made a profit every single quarter, but often times Wall Street would criticize them for ânot meeting expectations.â Again, Kelleher cared about making a profitânot what some Ivy League weenie on the Street thought. When you do that, your stock will take care of itself.
When I came out of semi-retirement and joined this company five years ago, There was little doubt that Walgreens put employees first. Today, there is zero doubt that Walgreens puts Wall Street first. Mondayâs late day announcement regarding assistant managersâ compensation drives that point home even harder.
Everyone realizes that Wall Street loves debt and acquisitionsâhow else does one explain CVSâs stock price? But the single most attractive thing to me when I joined Walgreens was that it was a cash-solvent company. That said to me fiscal responsibility.
Where has that fiscal responsibility gone? Deerfield crows about record sales and upward sales trends on our ânews pageâ on Storenet, then in e-mails to the stores, talks about declining sales that precipitated taking money out of over 16,000 assistant managersâ pockets.
We read about awesome January sales and then we foolishly think, âHey, maybe weâll get some of those lost hours back in the stores.â Silly us. Deerfield then announces weâre spending that money to buy more Rite-Aid stores out in California if an effort to please Wall Street analysts.
We, as a company, used to mock CVS for that very same attitude and for their growth-by-acquisition mentalityâbut then here we go and do the same exact thing . . . only we take money from the employees to help fund the acquisitions. And now, weâre doing everything we can to model our store operations after the very competition we used to deride and mock.
When I joined this company, the line was, âWe donât want to be the biggest drug store in America. We want to be the best drug store in America.â We strove for quality over quantity. Now we trade chase quantity at the expense of quality.
Bottom line, Mr. Wasson, is that youâre demanding that your source of revenueâthe storesâdo more and do it with less people, which means working harder. Thatâs fine. Most of us are used to doing that. But then you demand that we do more with less, having to work harder, then do it for an average of 20% less so that we can continue to fund your ill-advised acquisitions based upon what a bunch of consultants advise, solely in order to please Wall Street over Main Streetâall the while asking Main Street to pay for it all and accept the longer wait times, the decreased service, the run-down stores that Deerfield will not invest in to refurbish, the unreliable equipment that processes film and prints while demanding more out of the people manning the equipment.
Is it any wonder complaints, chain-wide, are climbing faster than a homesick angel? But weâre sure the consultants have an answer for that, too.
But just remember what we used to say back in the military: âThose who can, do. Those who canât, teach. Those who can do neither, consult.â It has never been more true than it is today. Which is why should I ever have the occasion or pleasure to meet Kevin Walgreen, Iâll be honored to shake his hand and buy him the beverage and meal of his choice.
Mr. Wasson, I know you inherited this mess and I salute you for trying to straighten it out. But foregoing and abandoning the principles and values that built this company and made it great is not the way to do it. I wish you all the luck and fortune in your challenges, and if I did not care, maybe as deeply as you about the future of this company, I would not have taken the time to write as much as I have nor in the tone I did. I hope you understand and respect that.
With sincerest regards,
5-year Assistant Manager