Leaving on Top: Wasson and Mulally Did What All CEOs Want to Do

They can be inspiring examples to other CEOs and company owners when so many of their peers seem to be getting knocked aside like bowling pins.

A very recent example of this welcome phenomenon is Greg Wasson, president and CEO of Walgreen’s, who announced recently that he will retire around the end of the year. Rewind to earlier in the year, and that description also fit Alan Mulally’s departure as CEO of Ford.

““Wasson was instrumental in establishing Walgreen’s leadership in the digital arena. “To truly make that happen in just five years’ time, his support was critical.”

Wasson’s departure from Walgreen’s will occur when the merger between Walgreen’s and the UK’s Alliance Boots pharmacy chain becomes official. The career Walgreen’s employee has led a significant overhaul of America’s largest drug-store chain since he ascended to the CEO post in 2009 at a challenging time for all retailers.

Besides finding a way for Walgreen’s to create an international footprint at a time of tremendous globalization pressures on all retail chains, Wasson presided over Walgreen’s evolution into a sort of community healthcare partner for consumers. It leads pharmacy chains in areas such as providing immunizations and other medical services on the store site, and various applications of digital technology ranging from a dynamic loyalty program to innovations in merchandising in the store.

“He was instrumental” in establishing Walgreen leadership in the digital arena, Adam Pellegrini, vice president of digital health for Walgreen’s, told CEO Briefing. “To truly make that happen in just five years’ time, his support was critical.”

Mulally passed Ford to current CEO Mark Fields earlier this year after having turned the company around during his tenure beginning in 2006. Ford Chairman and CEO William Ford II had been looking for a seasoned manufacturing hand to reshape a proud American industrial giant that had somewhat lost its way even while times in the auto industry were pretty good.

The former Boeing hand proved to be exactly what Ford needed, as he reshaped the company’s manufacturing and product-development functions, installed a consistent and progressive corporate culture and, most important, disdained a U.S.-government bailout in 2009 when General Motors and Chrysler went to the trough. That move gave Mulally unrivaled freedom to guide Ford through the Great Recession even while it granted the company’s brand and products significant goodwill on the part of American consumers.

By the time Mulally decided to move on this year, he’d also built a good management bench from which Fields emerged as the logical—and highly qualified—successor. And it’s been a final salute to Mulally’s leadership that Ford, while struggling a bit with a maturing U.S. market and a frustrating European economy, has stayed largely on course since he left.

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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