Charles R. Walgreen III, Former Walgreen Co. Chairman and CEO, Dies at Age 80

DEERFIELD, Ill.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Charles R. (Cork) Walgreen III, former president, chief executive
officer, chairman of the board, and chairman emeritus of the iconic
U.S.-based drugstore chain Walgreen Co., died at age 80 on Monday, Sept.
26, at his home in Lake Forest, Ill. Walgreen III was the grandson of
Charles R. Walgreen Sr., who founded the 115-year-old pharmacy retailer
that now is included in the Retail Pharmacy USA Division of Walgreens
Boots Alliance, Inc. (NASDAQ: WBA).

Born in Chicago on Nov. 11, 1935, he was the son of Mary Ann Leslie and
Charles R. Walgreen Jr., and the third Walgreen to lead the company.

Last year, Walgreen III attended the fall luncheon of the Walgreen
Alumni Association as a special guest in recognition of his 80th
birthday. Among the crowd of several hundred people was Alex Gourlay,
co-chief operating officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance. “As I listened
to the tributes and spoke with Mr. Walgreen, I was struck again by how
he led our company – with a great singular focus on his customers, with
humility and a very clear sense that Walgreens needed to stand for value
and care in the community,” said Gourlay. “He made courageous decisions
in that straightforward framework and built the Walgreens we know today
as customers, employees and partners. I counted myself grateful whenever
I was fortunate enough to spend time with him and his family.”

Walgreen III had an early start on his remarkable 58-year Walgreens
career starting in 1952 as a stock boy after school and on vacations. He
later entered the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, from which he
earned his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1958. He returned to
Walgreens in his first professional capacity in 1959 as a pharmacist at
Chicago’s 7510 N. Western Ave. store (still open today). In 1963, he was
named administrative assistant to the vice president of operations and
was elected that year to the company’s board of directors. He gradually
moved up in his career in a series of increasingly responsible positions
that included district manager (1965 to 1966), Western regional
director, and then Midwestern regional director (1966 to 1968) before
being named vice president in 1968, president in 1969, president and
chief executive officer in 1971 and chairman and CEO in 1976.

He liked to recount what his father said to him when he retired:
Walgreen Jr. called his son into his office saying, “Here’s your desk.
Here are the keys. I’m going fishing.” More than a family anecdote, it
demonstrates the trust his father had for him.

Walgreen III served as Walgreens chief executive officer until his
retirement in January 1998. He remained chairman until August 1999, then
retired from the board as chairman emeritus in 2010.

In addition to his Walgreens responsibilities, Walgreen III served a
number of industry, civic and professional organizations, including as a
member of the American Pharmaceutical Association, a director and
chairman of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, a director of
the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Junior Achievement of
Chicago, and a member of many other charitable and civic organizations.
He was a long-time member of the Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park,
Ill., the Sailfish Point Golf Club in Stuart, Fla., and the Lake
Winnipesaukee Golf Club in Wolfeboro, N.H. In 2004, he donated $2
million to his alma mater, the University of Michigan College of
Pharmacy, to establish a professorship focusing on researching the
socio-economics of health care policies, regulations and ethics.

Walgreen III is credited with significant strategic changes that powered
the company’s growth for decades to come. When he became president in
1969, the company was not meeting its profitability goals and growth
targets. And, in a sense, it was struggling with its identity. As he
would put it, “We thought we could sell everything … suits, hammocks,
carpets… We were trying to please all people with all types of
merchandise that didn’t belong in a drugstore.” In addition, Walgreens
by that time had a number of varied businesses, including Wags (its
chain of freestanding restaurants) and laboratories and manufacturing
plants for private label products. Walgreen III determined that it was
time to get back to Walgreens core business: pharmacy. With that, he
initiated a turnaround for the company that was deemed by many to be

In 1976, he began divesting Walgreens of those peripheral businesses,
selling its food services, closing the labs and manufacturing
operations, and ending many of its joint interests in businesses as
varied as optical services, grocers and even its Mexico-based Sanborn’s
department store chain. The process culminated in 1988 with the sale of
the Wag’s restaurants to Marriott Corp. Walgreen III began a lasting
focus on pharmacy services, customer convenience and investing wisely
back into the business. He also committed to focusing on core product
categories: health care items, beauty and photo.

As the drugstore chain expanded, he also changed the whole view of
profitability, switching the focus from profit per store to profit per
customer visit.

He was a strong proponent of innovation, converting Walgreens pharmacies
in the early 1980s to Intercom, a computerized prescription processing
system. It was the first network of its kind—linking all stores in the
chain electronically and thereby enabling any Walgreens location to
serve its pharmacy customers. This system revolutionized the company—and
the industry.

He embraced technology in other areas as well, with a commitment to
automating the company’s distribution centers as well as new
technologies in point of sale scanning, photofinishing and other areas.

By the early 1990s, he led another transformation—to freestanding stores
versus traditional drugstore locations in strip malls—on what became
known in the company as “Main & Main, the best corners in America.”
These stores featured drive-thru pharmacies, which Walgreens also
pioneered in the industry.

When he retired as CEO in January 1998, the company had enjoyed 23
consecutive years of record sales and earnings growth under his
leadership, had six stock splits and grown to more than 2,400 stores
(from 561 in 1971) generating $13 billion in sales (from $817 million).

Walgreen III was hailed as an unrivaled industry leader who advocated
the high value of his company’s team members. He reflected his
grandfather’s hiring advice by selecting a strong management team.
Unassuming but focused on business results, he shunned personal
publicity, crediting instead his management team and employees with the
company’s successes.

Walgreen III is survived by his wife, Kathleen B. Walgreen; six sons:
Charles Richard Walgreen, Kevin Walgreen (a Walgreen Co. senior vice
president), Leslie Ray Walgreen, Chris Patrick Walgreen, Tad Alexander
Walgreen and Carl Allen Jr.; two daughters: Brooke Julia Walgreen and
Jorie Allen Grassie; 19 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. He was
preceded in death by his parents, Charles R. Walgreen Jr. and Mary Ann
Leslie Walgreen, and his son, Tad Alexander Walgreen Sr. He is also
survived by his sister, Leslie Ann Walgreen Pratt; brother, James Alan
Walgreen; and several nieces and nephews.

Services will be private. Donations in Walgreen III’s memory may be
directed to:
Radiation Oncology Fund at the Cardinal Bernardin
Cancer Center
Loyola University Medical Center
Office of
2160 South First Ave.
Maywood, Ill., 60153

About Walgreens

Walgreens (,
one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, is included in the Retail
Pharmacy USA Division of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (NASDAQ: WBA),
the first global pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing enterprise. More
than 8 million customers interact with Walgreens each day in communities
across America, using the most convenient, multichannel access to
consumer goods and services and trusted, cost-effective pharmacy, health
and wellness services and advice. Walgreens operates 8,173 drugstores
with a presence in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico
and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Walgreens omni-channel business includes and More than 400 Walgreens stores offer
Healthcare Clinic or other provider retail clinic services.


Michael Polzin