Walgreens confirms departure of Van Howe

DEERFIELD, Ill. In a major management shift within its talented merchandising team, Walgreens Thursday confirmed that David Van Howe, corporate VP new business development, would leave the company at the end of the calendar year “to pursue other opportunities.”

Van Howe’s pending departure from one of the nation’s top drug chains had been rumored for several days, but Walgreens remained mum about its plans since the beginning of the week. According to company spokesman Michael Polzin, Van Howe’s duties “will transition to several other individuals in the company.”

Van Howe was a key decision-maker in Walgreens’ evolving front-end strategy since he joined the company in 2000, first as a general merchandise manager in charge of several product categories in Walgreens purchasing department, including beauty/fashion, pharmacy and health and wellness. He was promoted to VP purchasing in 2007 and corporate VP purchasing in 2008.

As such, he played a major role in shaping the look and feel of the prototype Walgreens drug store in recent years, including its redesigned and upgraded cosmetics/fragrance departments, enlarged convenience foods sections and broadened assortment of health and wellness aids. More recently, he helped implement a new and sweeping set of initiatives aimed at tailoring the front-end mix toward specific, local customer needs, reducing item redundancies and clutter, and segmenting the product mix into four broad groupings to respond more effectively to Walgreens’ more than 3 million daily shoppers.

Many of those newer initiatives, however, came from more recent inductees into Walgreens’ merchandising management team, who brought with them a broader focus and specific expertise in reaching out to targeted customer groups. Among them: such marketing and product-sales gurus as Bryan Pugh, a veteran of Walmart Stores who was named VP merchandising; and Kim Feil, who joined Walgreens in 2008 after a career in the consumer packaged-goods and market research industries.

Their hiring, part of a sweeping transformation in Walgreens’ merchandise management ranks, signaled big changes in the company’s front-end strategy. In retrospect, they also set in motion a shift in decision-making power from Van Howe to Pugh, Feil and other rising stars at the company, including Chong Bang, who heads Walgreens’ massive Customer Centric Retailing initiative.

Nevertheless, Van Howe is credited with laying much of the needed groundwork for that transformation, and for helping to see it through. “We appreciate Dave’s professionalism and many contributions to recent initiatives, including Rewiring for Growth, Customer Centric Retailing and many other strategic programs throughout his career,” said John Spina, Walgreens’ vice president of retail integration. “We have valued Dave’s leadership, dedication and commitment to the company, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

For his part, Van Howe praised his colleagues and the supplier community that has been critical to Walgreens’ success. “During my nine years with Walgreens, I have had the privilege to work with the best retail merchants, operators and vendor partners in the industry,” he said.