Mary Sammons





President and Chief Executive Officer of Rite Aid

Born October 12, 1946, in Portland, OR; daughter of Lee W. and Ann (Cherry) Jackson; married Nickolas F. Sammons, September 12, 1967; children: one. Education: Marylhurst College, B.A., 1970.

Addresses: Office —Rite Aid Corporation, 30 Hunter Ln., Camp Hill, PA 17011.

Career

Secondary school teacher, early 1970s; Fred Meyer Stores, joined company as management trainee, 1973, buyer, 1975–80, vice president for merchandising, 1980–86, senior vice president, manager of soft goods division, 1986–97, executive vice president and manager of apparel, home electronics, and home division, 1997–98, president and chief executive officer, 1998–99; Rite Aid Corporation, president and chief operating officer, December 1999–, chief executive officer, June 2003–; National Association of Chain Drug Stores, chair, 2003–05.

Sidelights

Mary Sammons became president of the Rite Aid Corporation at a troubled time in the drug-store chain's history, when some industry analysts were predicting imminent bankruptcy. Since taking over in late 1999, however, Sammons has won accolades for fixing the damage from Rite Aid's past errors, and returning the company to profitability. She became chief executive officer in 2003, and regularly appears on the Fortune list of the 50 most powerful women in American business.

Born in 1946 in Portland, Oregon, Sammons earned a degree in French with a secondary-level teaching certificate from nearby Marylhurst College in 1970. She married during her sophomore year, became a mother, and spent the early 1970s as a substitute teacher. Her retail career began when she answered a newspaper ad and soon joined Fred Meyer Stores as a management trainee in 1973. With 137 stores, the Fred Meyer chain was a food, drug, and general merchandise retailer in the Pacific Northwest, and Sammons quickly moved up through its ranks, becoming a buyer in 1975 and vice president for merchandising five years later. In 1986, she was made senior vice president responsible for its soft-goods division, and spent the next eleven years in that position. A stint as executive vice president and manager of Fred Meyer's apparel, home electronics, and home divisions preceded her being named president and chief executive officer (CEO) in 1998.

Sammons spent just a year at the top, for in 1999 Fred Meyer was acquired by the Kroger Company, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based grocery store chain. She joined Rite Aid Corporation along with three other Fred Meyer executives, one of them her former boss, Robert Miller, who was named chief executive officer of Rite Aid. Miller had served as Sammons' mentor over the decade they worked together, she told David Pinto of Chain Drug Review . "He believed in me, challenged me, told me where I needed to improve. When he accepted the job at Rite Aid, I willingly volunteered to join him, even though he hadn't asked me. I needed a new challenge where I felt I could make a difference—and this has proved to be it."

Sammons's first title at Rite Aid was president and chief operating officer, with Miller handling the crucial financial restructuring for the troubled drugstore chain. Rite Aid was founded in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the early 1960s, and over the next three decades came to be one of the dominant players in this retail sector. In 1999, however, it was rocked by an accounting scandal which forced out CEO Martin L. Grass, son of Rite Aid's founder, and eventually resulted in an eight-year prison sentence for him. Because of the financial mismanagement, Rite Aid was buried under a mountain of debt, and was having serious difficulties paying its suppliers, which led to empty store shelves and customer dissatisfaction. There was also a serious morale problem within the company, the remedying of which was one of Sammons' first tasks once she came on board in December of 1999.

Sammons and her fellow senior executives began intensive discussions with groups culled from Rite Aid's 73,000 total employees. "When we arrived, we were confronted by a sad workforce," she admitted to Pinto in the Chain Drug Review interview. "Nobody cared…. One of our biggest challenges was getting people to trust us as a company. Today they do trust us. That's one of the most important things we've accomplished here. In that context I'm not surprised by what we've done." In another interview, Sammons explained why the more personal approach to fixing the company was crucial to Rite Aid's survival. "People get you to the cause of problems, not just reports and numbers," she told Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Tom Belden. "We have very committed people. They care. They'll work the extra hours. They know we'll listen. That wasn't something that had happened under the old regime."

During this turnaround period, Sammons began retooling the layout of some of Rite Aid's stores, but also had to make difficult decisions about closing underperforming ones. By 2001, the company's fortunes had improved considerably, which prompted Chain Drug Review to name Sammons its Chain Drug Retailer of the Year for 2001 in its January of 2002 issue. The honor was bestowed "for engineering one of the remarkable recoveries in chain drug annals," wrote Pinto in the publication, who also commended her for "leading and overseeing a dramatic metamorphosis that has, virtually overnight, transformed a drug chain on the brink of extinction into one within sight of its objective of competing on equal footing with the best drug chains in America."

Some of Sammons' success came because of Rite Aid's new strategy of aggressively courting pharmacy customers. Having a prescription regularly filled at a store means that the pharmacy counter rings up steady sales, and customers often purchase other items, too. With Rite Aid's financial outlook stabilized, CEO Bob Miller stepped down and Sammons replaced him in the job in June of 2003. In early 2004, the company posted its first quarterly profit after several years of losses. "I believe we have turned the company around and are moving it forward," she told Harrisburg Patriot-News journalist Tom Dochat. "It was a great year for me personally, and it was a great year for our company."

Sammons continued at Rite Aid's helm and worked to add more stores to its banner. In early 2007, shareholders approved a plan to acquire the Eckerd and Brooks drugstore chains, which would add 2,700 stores to Rite Aid's 3,400 outlets across 28 states. That would give it almost as many stores as its top competitors, CVS—which has 6,200 stores—and the 5,700 stores in the Walgreens chain.

A regular weekend presence at Rite Aid headquarters in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, Sammons has twice served as chair of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. One of her main missions at Rite Aid was to continue to improve the number of prescriptions it filled. "The pharmacy business is a neighborhood business," she asserted to Dochat in the Patriot-News . "It's a store-by-store experience, as well as what your whole company is all about."

Sources

Chain Drug Review , January 7, 2002, p. 3; April 26, 2004, p. 34.

Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA), June 28, 2004.

Philadelphia Inquirer , August 24, 2003.

Retail Merchandiser , February 2004, p. 19.



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