Women in Pharmacy, RxOwnership push for new owners

At McKesson ideaShare 2017, McKesson RxOwnership launched the inaugural Women in Pharmacy Own It Program. The event featured a morning get-together over coffee; a panel of successful female Health Mart owners that included Teresa Orlando, owner of Dunes Family Pharmacy; Pam Marquess, owner East Marietta Drug Company; and Ellie Darj, owner Chevy Chase Care Pharmacy. Tammy McDonald, VP RxOwnership, and Crystal Lennartz, chief pharmacist Health Mart also participated in the panel and networking session that followed.

“When we look at the funnel of who is coming into pharmacy, there is about 1.5 times the number of women versus men that are graduating from pharmacy school,” Lennartz shared as part of the panel. “But there’s a big contrast in terms of women in ownership and also in terms of women in leadership positions,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of progress. The number of women owners over the last 15 years has more than doubled, but women only represent one-third of overall owners.”

“Women wear a lot of hats,” McDonald told Drug Store News in advance of the panel. “Some of the hats they wear are those of wives, mothers, caretakers, business owners, etc. You name it,” she said. “It’s really important for women to have resources, a community of women helping women and through this process become pharmacy owners or have successful pharmacy careers.”

RxOwnership’s Women in Pharmacy Own It Program focused on four key areas: ownership, mentorship, leadership and work/life balance for women. Creating a community of women helping women to succeed, the program helps match pharmacy students with owners and empowers pharmacy ownership among woman candidates.

“My mentors were definitely my parents. For owning the pharmacy for 35 years, and really watching the way that they were very proactive,” said Teresa Orlando.  “They were part of their community; I mean, my Dad really taught me about how to work hard. I think that was the number one thing: really work hard, and don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone.”

“That work/life balance is really key,” McDonald said. “Being a business owner is extremely demanding,” she said, without regard to gender. In an effort to strike that optimal balance between taking care of both employees and family, women need to learn to say “no” sometimes, be present in the moment and to delegate those menial tasks that can be outsourced. “I want women to know that there are resources for them, a community of women who have very similar goals and dreams of being successful entrepreneurs,” McDonald said. “Our community of women in the Women in Pharmacy Program can support that.”

“When you ask what the definition of balance is, most of you are going to say 50% work and 50% fun. But that’s not really what balance is. Balance means for you, taking in all the things in life that you love, so work is always going to be a part of it, because you’re a business owner, so you’re always going to have work, but for me, I always take a day off, because it’s important that I recharge,” said Pam Marquess.

There were certainly many women interested in pharmacy ownership, as evidenced by the diverse audience who attended McKesson’s annual RxOwnership Transfer Luncheon the day before. That luncheon also featured a panel of industry experts experienced in buying, selling and starting pharmacies. Sharing their experience were Kim Diemand, VP RxOwnership; Marc Cornella, financial consultant at U.S. Medical Funding; Jonathan Marquess, multi-store owner (some 13 stores with his wife Pam); Ollin Sykes, CPA at Sykes & Co.; and Darci Swan, sales manager at McKesson AccessHealth.

The formation of an interactive panel of experts for each of the events was not by accident – those formats were exactly what independents ordered, noted Diemand. “We tried a number of different formats in the past. What we’ve heard is independents are interested in less philosophy and less theory, and more about ‘how to,’” he said. “We took questions throughout the program.”

“If you’re thinking about buying a store today, strategic alliances are so important,” Jonathan Marquess said. “You need to have a good pharmacy association; you all should belong to NCPA. You should have a good wholesaler; I use McKesson and probably most of you do as well. [And] you need to have a good buying group.”

Beyond strong industry alliances, some of the themes to emerge for independents looking to buy another pharmacy, or even for those looking to break into the retail end of pharmacy, is to conduct due diligence in researching any potential acquisition target, including the investment cost associated with ramping a mediocre operation to a good operation with the additional clinical services many patients are expected today.

The best buy opportunities, of course, are those pharmacies already hitting on all cylinders, Marquess said. “If I buy a store today, I’m going to go for a really busy, big store. In today’s environment, with all the things we talked about at this meeting with the DIR fees, reimbursements going down, compounding regulations, on and on and on, it’s tough to get that Mississippi Queen turned around and more profitable,” he said. “You can do it, but I ‘used to be able to do it in a year.’ Now it takes a lot longer.”

RxOwnership has been in existence for about seven years, and is a free service not only for independent pharmacy operators associated with McKesson, but any independent pharmacy operator. In the past year, McKesson has assisted more than 400 owners in starting new pharmacies and has helped more than 4,000 pharmacies through the ownership-transfer process since 2008.

“RxOwnership’s main focus is to keep the independent pharmacy independent,” Chris Cella, national VP of RxOwnership, told Drug Store News. “Our second biggest focus is, how do we make this process easier?” Cella reported that six regional RxOwnership advisers are on hand to help pharmacists through the process, whatever that process entails — starting a pharmacy from the ground up, acquiring an existing pharmacy or selling an independent operation to another independent operator.