Giancamilli prepares to hand off CEO reins

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — Sometimes nice guys finish first. Andy Giancamilli, who has held key leadership positions for drug store and big-box chains in both the United States and Canada, revealed in mid-September that he would retire as CEO of Katz Group Canada on Feb. 2, 2012. His announcement caps a storied retail career that culminated with a highly influential stint as chief executive of Canada’s largest drug store network, where he oversaw the transformation of Katz Group from a diverse collection of local drug store holdings into a unified, rejuvenated Rexall retail brand with national reach and a knack for innovation in merchandising and health care.

The capstone of Giancamilli’s leadership was the unveiling last year of a dramatically upgraded store prototype, dubbed Rexall Healthy Living. The test stores are designed to elevate Rexall’s image as a health-and-wellness destination, while building on its strong links with family physicians.

Giancamilli’s career traces the profound evolution of drug store and mass retailing over the past four decades. In an interview Sept. 26, he cited the growth of white-hot competition in the United States and Canada — and the critical role technology has played — in separating retail winners from losers.

“What I’ve seen over the years, especially with big-box retailing, is the huge increase in competitiveness and sophistication in that industry,” Giancamilli said.

“When I started as a clerk in a drug store, we didn’t have point of sale,” he added. “My job was to price merchandise and put it up on the shelf, and I used stickers to do it. With the advent of UPC and scanning and computers ... I saw the entire process.”

That growth in data-driven sophistication, Giancamilli said, was critical to survival. “It was necessary, because the industry got so competitive that it became no longer a case of gross margins measured in dollars, but gross margins in pennies,” he noted.

Giancamilli began his career in 1967 as a stock clerk at SK Drug Mart, part of a chain of seven stores in suburban Detroit. He moved to Perry Drug Stores in 1975 after graduation from pharmacy school, quickly becoming a key member of Perry founder Jack Robinson’s small management team, and rising to president and COO by the late 1980s. After Perry’s sale to Rite Aid in 1995, Giancamilli was hired as VP in charge of drug store categories by Kmart, rising later to general merchandise manager of hardlines, president of all merchandising and, eventually, to Kmart president and COO.

In 2001, he moved north to serve as EVP of Canadian Tire. He joined Katz Group in late 2003. He also served as chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores from December 2008 to April 2010.

When Giancamilli relinquishes his post early next year, he said he plans to spend more time with family. Among his goals: to rebuild his childhood home in Italy, which was damaged in an earthquake several years ago, and finally find the time to pursue cherished hobbies like boating, golf and racing a Ferrari.

“I would like to stay involved in the industry, whether through board work or some other way, and especially in the field of health care,” he told DSN. “I’m also looking forward to spending more time with my two grandchildren.”