By the time Rite Aid’s board of directors named Heyward Donigan the company’s president and CEO last August, the search had gone on for five months. Once appointed, Donigan immediately rolled up her sleeves and got to work — and little more than a year later, the results are starting to show.
In her 15 months with the company, Donigan has approached overhauling Rite Aid’s go-to-market approach with fearlessness and conviction that she’s doing exactly what needs to be done to right the ship.
“I had to be fearless,” she said. “You can’t take this job and be fearful. It was a scary thing to think about, taking over a company that had sold off many of its stores, with this level of debt and starting all over in an industry that is a really hard business.”
One of the key tools she has implemented is lean methodology, which was used to assess which of the company’s inventory wasn’t turning, and which to ultimately invest in for growth. She noted that bringing lean methodology to bear on Rite Aid’s operations also has helped reduce the company’s working capital by $200 million this year. Donigan said that the methodology boils down to using front-line associates to identify areas for improvement and gather data, then using the insights gathered to inform new efforts.
“What you do is you slow down to go fast,” she said. “Slow down and look at the data and use the data to guide you. Once you have spent time to gather that data and understand those stats, you can go so fast and change things quickly.”
She noted that having executives in place that are at the top of their fields — in a strategy that was slightly ahead of the COVID-induced remote work curve, the company has taken a hiring approach that focuses on the best hires regardless of geography — has been a boon.
“I’m all about the team,” she said. “To me, nothing matters without the people, because without them, nothing gets done and I’m really excited to have a wonderful mix of tenured Rite Aid executives and new outside talent.” She noted that CFO Matt Schroeder and chief human resources officer Jessica Kazmaier have both been with the company nearly 20 years, and chief pharmacy officer Jocelyn Konrad has been with the company for 13 years, since Rite Aid acquired Brooks Eckerd.
Among the new names is COO Jim Peters, who Donigan said she handpicked for his mix of healthcare background, investment capital background, and knowledge of health systems and pharmacy. Also new is Andre Persaud, head of retail, who is a pharmacist by training and also has extensive experience in executing retail goals. Though not a Donigan hire, chief information officer Justin Mennen has helped lead the company’s digital overhaul.
With a team in place and her eyes firmly fixed on Rite Aid’s RxEvolution, Donigan said the company is ready for the work ahead.
“I talk to our teams about being the little engine that could,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of power in being smaller and more nimble, and it is my expectation that we’ll continue at this pace for some time.”