Walgreens former chief emphasizes high values
Joseph McMahon | Monday, October 5, 2009
Walgreens former president and CEO Daniel Jorndt spoke to business students and faculty Friday morning about the lessons of his life and the importance of high values in building a business to last.
Jorndt started his lecture by talking about how he first began his career in the pharmaceuticals industry — as a delivery boy for a corner store pharmacy in 1950.
“I didn’t know about trade areas or marketing,” he said. “I did feel good delivering medicines to sick people.”
Jorndt then attended Drake University in Iowa, where he worked at a pharmacy adjacent to “the busiest little whorehouse in Des Moines.”
After college, Jorndt went to work for Walgreens, which had first been established in Chicago in 1901. Jorndt rose through the company to become CEO and president, where he oversaw a period of unprecedented expansion of the company.
“No business can stand still,” he said.
Using the model “crawl, walk, run,” Jorndt helped expand Walgreens from 2,821 stores in 1999 to 6,996 stores in 2009.
Jorndt said he always experimented with ideas to help expand Walgreens business, including the institution of a one-hour photo booth and a drive-through pharmacy.
“You have to keep trying things and experimenting,” he said.
Although the one-hour photo booth took 12 years to perfect, Jorndt said the drive-through pharmacies were an immediate success.
“A lot of little towns couldn’t support a full-size Walgreens,” he said. “We had to open five stores in [Evansville, Ind.] to realize McDonald’s had already trained the world on the drive-through.”
Jorndt, citing James Collins’ “Built to Last,” said the author had discovered “the key ingredient to companies lasting a long time was high ideals and high values.”
Jorndt said high values allow the best companies to attract the best people.
“We believe that honest goods can be sold to honest people through honest methods,” he said, citing the Walgreens creed.
Jorndt said the creed as well as the Rotary International’s “four-way test” helped inspire his employees.
“Real basic stuff, but basic stuff, read over and over, sets the bar real high and is very motivating,” he said.
Jorndt said lonely decisions are the hardest to make, but often lead to better results than something formulated by a committee.
“The tough ones need an outlier to fight for it,” he said.
Jorndt said the experiences of explorer Ernest Shackleton, who despite suffering a disastrous turn of events did not lose a single man on his expedition to Antarctica, demonstrate this principle.
“If the ship is sinking, the leader has to go to the front,” he said.
Jorndt said it is always important to avoid hubris in business, and that despite the title of the James Collins’ book often associated with top management, no one ever goes from “Good to Great.”
“Once an outfit starts thinking they’re great, sell their stock,” he said.
Jorndt also said procrastination is a natural enemy of success while invoking the saying “do it now.
“It’s part of the human condition,” he said. “We all procrastinate.”
Jorndt summarized his lecture at the end by simply saying thank you to the audience for listening.
“Thank you. I think it is one of the most underused words in the English language,” he said.