Former Walgreen Co. Chairman Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Dies At 100
DEERFIELD, Ill., Feb. 11, 2007 – Charles R. Walgreen Jr. – a name synonymous with "drugstore" to many people – died at age 100 on Saturday, Feb. 10, at his home in Northfield, Ill. Son of the founder of the 105-year-old Walgreen Co. (NYSE, NASDAQ: WAG), Mr. Walgreen Jr. served as its president from 1939 to 1963, and as chairman of the board of directors from 1963 to 1976. During his tenure, annual sales grew from $72 million to $817 million.
Mr. Walgreen Jr. guided the chain through World War II and the postwar expansion years, and was responsible for many of the changes in pharmacy and retailing during that time.
His personal goal was to raise the professional stature and working conditions of pharmacists. Almost single-handedly, he gradually reduced pharmacists’ hours at his stores from the industry norm of about 66 a week in 1939 to 40. He made changes in customer service requested by the medical profession that resulted in Walgreens becoming the first pharmacy chain allowed to advertise in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Early in the 1950s, he revolutionized the retail drug business by leading Walgreens conversion from clerk-assisted shopping to self-service, and in 1952 he was the moving force behind Evergreen Plaza, the first large shopping center built east of the Mississippi River.
In World War II, Walgreen Co. raised millions of dollars through war bonds sold at its stores and as part of its nationally broadcast radio shows which featured Bob Hope and other top Hollywood stars. In 1943, the company opened a store inside the newly constructed Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and Mr. Walgreen Jr. directed all profits back to the Pentagon. The contribution did not go unnoticed by then-Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who wrote to Mr. Walgreen Jr. in 1945 that he "personally appreciated[d] the sacrifices made by the Walgreen Company in contributing so materially to the comfort and convenience of the many thousands of Pentagon workers during the trying war days."
The 1960s was a period of expansion and diversification. The company opened a number of Walgreen "Super Stores," acquired retail operations in Mexico and Texas, and started several freestanding restaurant chains. During this period, Edwin Darby, Chicago Sun-Times financial editor, wrote that "the company is in its greatest period of growth."
One of Mr. Walgreen Jr.’s most lasting contributions to the company was his conviction that "idealism works, if it’s worked at. But you can’t crash ideas through a wall of objections. That simply bashes in the ideal, not the wall. You have to open doors, exchange ideas, sometimes talk a wall down."
Similarly, he adopted the Four-Way Test from Rotary International and introduced it to Walgreens in 1955, where it still forms the ethical base for the company: "Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendship? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"
Born in Chicago on March 4, 1906, to Charles R. and Myrtle Norton Walgreen, young Chuck – a lifelong nickname – grew up in the drugstore business. He was making deliveries at age 9 from his father’s second store, at 39th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue on Chicago’s South Side, and by age 11 was carrying his mother’s homemade soup to the store’s new lunch counter. "We were a true small family business," as he liked to recall.
Drugstore owners were required to be licensed pharmacists in the Prohibition years of the 1920s, and after briefly considering a career in architecture, Mr. Walgreen Jr. entered the University of Michigan School of Pharmacy, graduating in 1928. At that time, he recalled many years later, "a doctor’s prescription was just a recipe – it listed various things he wished to have made up into a pill or a powder or a liniment or lotion or suppository. Our state board exam was based on compounding various items."
Called by his father a "good negotiator with a million-dollar smile," one of Mr. Walgreen Jr.’s early jobs was negotiating Depression-era leases for the stores. One California owner reportedly said, "Walgreen came in with that smile of his and put the books on the table and kept smiling, and I took off $40,000."
Mr. Walgreen Jr. worked his way through Walgreen Co. on the store opening crew, in the ice cream plant, and in personnel, sales, manufacturing, purchasing and real estate before becoming vice president in 1933, executive assistant to his father in 1935 and president shortly before the senior Walgreen’s death in 1939.
He enjoyed an active retirement, beginning in 1971 when he passed all the exams to earn an unlimited ocean captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard. He spent much of the next 18 years sailing the world on his yacht.
In 1995, at age 89, he traveled to Antarctica, where a 1,000-mile shoreline identified on maps as the Walgreen Coast was named by Adm. Richard E. Byrd, a family friend, in honor of Mr. Walgreen Sr. The trip required Mr. Walgreen Jr. to grow a beard and train for a year, and it was one of the great disappointments of his life that, because of a mix-up over a doctor’s orders, he was not allowed on the final flight from base camp to the Pole. However, he is believed to be the oldest adventurer ever to visit Antarctica.
He also kept an office at the company’s Deerfield, Ill., headquarters, where he could be seen working two or three days a week into his 90s. Then, at age 95, he ordered construction of a new 127-foot yacht, the Sis W., and two years later he and his wife and a crew including a staff of nurses cruised to the East Coast, the Panama Canal and the Galapagos Islands.
Mr. Walgreen Jr. was particularly active in matters relating to his profession, his university and – as he approached his 100th birthday – geriatric science. He was president of both the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (1945) and the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (1970), and honorary president of the American Pharmaceutical Association (2001). He received honorary degrees from the University of Michigan and North Dakota State University in recognition of his continuing concern for pharmaceutical education, and his three children endowed a chair in his name at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy in 1992. He established the Mary Ann and Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Chair for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan in 1967 and the Jean and Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Chair for Reading and Literacy at that university’s School of Education in 1992.
Mr. Walgreen had a longstanding relationship with Evanston Northwestern Healthcare (ENH), Evanston, Ill. He joined the ENH board of directors in 1955 and was a life director there. In 1997, he established the Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Chair of Cardiology at Evanston Hospital. In recognition of his longtime commitment to medical research and ENH, the institution’s new building, which opened in 2004 on the Evanston Hospital campus, is named the Charles R. Walgreen Jr. Building.
Mr. Walgreen Jr. was married in 1933 to Mary Ann Leslie, who died shortly before their 50th wedding anniversary. They had three children: Charles R. Walgreen III (Kathleen B.), who succeeded him in leading Walgreen Co.; James Alan Walgreen (Ann); and Leslie Ann (Pratt). He is survived by his second wife, Jean, his children, 23 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren