by Tyler Hough
Director, business continuity and retail product loss, Walgreens
06 April 2020
Meet our head of business continuity, tasked with keeping dozens of Walgreens teams on the same page and working according to plan as we address the coronavirus pandemic.
Tyler Hough last week at the Security Operations Center headquarters for Walgreens in Deerfield, Ill.
 
Business continuity – my area of Walgreens – is one that people don’t usually see or hear from unless a major disaster is on the way. Then we’re suddenly front and center, every day, multiple times a day.
 
We act as the hub to tie together the company’s response and make sure Walgreens continues to be there for our customers. Much of what I do is connecting the dots, linking different teams across the company to share information and address problems big and small, from health and safety concerns in stores to the logistics of getting products and supplies to the right places as soon as possible.
 
Most often, it’s a hurricane, wildfire or tornado we’re dealing with. Having learned from these types of disasters in the past, we’re fortunate to have a deep playbook of business continuity plans – strategies for worst-case scenarios that we’re constantly fine-tuning during “blue sky days,” or non-crisis times. Then, when a disaster strikes, we’re able to dig into the playbook and take successful strategies built for one part of the Walgreens business and possibly apply them to other areas, too.
 
With COVID-19, it’s been different. A global pandemic is not a hurricane. So although we’ve still been able to use a majority of our pre-existing continuity plans to address 90 percent of what’s happening during this crisis, there are still dramatic shifts and unique challenges – staffing issues in some stores, a wide range of state and local government orders, and other factors.
 
What this means is we’re in a constant state of learning. As challenges come up, we’re of course working on solving those challenges. But also, just like with hurricanes and wildfires, we’re capturing all the lessons, so that if we should ever face anything like this in the future, we’ll have plans already developed and ready to go. We’re building muscle memory.
 
Our biggest challenge
The different government regulations that are showing up are one of the toughest things we’re navigating. The federal government has its COVID-19 guidance, but many states are doing their own shelter-in-place procedures and lockdowns, and counties and even some individual cities and towns have their own regulations as well. At Walgreens, we’re doing a lot of problem-solving to decide what kinds of operating models are needed. For example, what if we have a store that’s under a local curfew? It’s not one-size-fits-all. It’s about creating a menu of different options we can pull from.
 
Life at work
Most days I’m still at the office, in a conference room that I’ve sort of made my designated area outside the Security Operations Center. We have 20 to 25 people at the SOC at any given point, with another five or six just outside, all keeping our social distance.
 

 
My accidental résumé of major disasters
I’ve been with Walgreens for 31 years. As a store manager, I opened the first Walgreens in Manhattan, in Union Square, 12 days before 9/11. When I came in to work the morning after the attacks, the military had blocked off the front of our store and everything south of where we were. But I had known they were going to do that, and I had spent eight years in the Army National Guard, so I brought my ID, and they were nice enough to move their barrier about two feet south of my door so we were able to stay open, becoming a staple for the community.
 
I got promoted to a district manager role in Jackson, Miss., and while I was there in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit. Certainly, going through what I had in Manhattan and remembering how I’d been supported by my leaders influenced how I looked out for my team members along the Gulf Coast. From there, I was moved up to Boston as a director of pharmacy and retail operations. In 2013, several Walgreens people and I were at the Boston Marathon supporting the American Liver Foundation when the bombs exploded.
 
In 2017, as Hurricane Harvey was striking Texas, I was asked to join the Security Operations Center to provide a field perspective on how they were handling the first of what would be three major hurricanes. A week after that, I was asked to take over business continuity. And that’s where I’ve been since.
 
How I keep my head clear
I’m trying to find little blocks of time where I can just think and process what’s going on. Sometimes the challenge is that you jump from meeting to meeting to meeting, and it’s hard to stop and comprehend everything you just heard, to act on it. When I do get home at night, I try to take a break, even if it’s just for an hour or two to spend time with my kids and my wife. I have a puzzle I’ve been working on for about four weeks now, where if I can get even one piece in, it just feels nice.
 
One big team
I’ve seen the company come together at our darkest times, and it’s incredible, the energy level of the people who rally Walgreens to succeed. The speed and precision with which we’re making decisions during this crisis – creating solutions and implementing them – is absolutely amazing. It’s not just the core groups who normally support natural disasters. This time, everybody is impacted. We’re all learning how to work differently, with a different sense of being there for each other. The best ideas continue to bubble up from the team members who are most directly impacted, especially out at our stores. So the more we can have team members share ideas through their leadership teams, that’s a huge piece. We may be solving a problem for today, but there’s going to be a different landscape when we flash-forward to a year or two years from now. A lot of the ideas we’re collecting and using right now are going to be the building blocks for how Walgreens operates in the future.