Look Back to Move Forward

FEBRUARY 01, 2006
Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS, Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief

Philosopher George Santayana's famous quote, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,"reminds us that the past is often prologue to the future. In today's world, however, where actions seem more valuable than thoughts, we seem to pay less attention to the past. The skill of reflection is too often ignored, and then we wonder why we do not progress.

Motivational speaker Terry Paulson suggests "that future focus is often enhanced by taking a look back at past experience and strengths that give direction to our journey."That also was Apple Computer's founder Steve Jobs' message to Stanford University graduates: "None of my college classes had even a hope of practical applications in my life. But, 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward."In order to prepare for the future in pharmacy, sometimes it is helpful to look at pharmacy's history.

When I recently read the new book by Mickey C. Smith, RPh, PhD, The Rexall Story: A History of Genius and Neglect, I was reminded of the value of reading history and learning from the past. I knew about the Rexall brand but never worked in a Rexall store nor interacted with any Rexallites. So, I had not appreciated the genius of Louis K. Liggett, who started the United Drug Company in 1902. The name was changed in 1945 to United Rexall Drug Company and to Rexall Drug Company in 1947.

The book's 10 chapters are divided into 3 sections: Part I: The Liggett Legacy; Part II: Marketing Rexall; and Part III: The Dart Era. As I read, I kept thinking that a pharmacy manager could use most of these same ideas to achieve success today. I also thought of tried-and-true business principles that work, and when we ignore them we usually pay a price.

In the Preface,Dr. Smith stated that the compelling reason for writing this [book] was to try to understand what happened to the 10,000 Rexall druggists. In the Afterword, he suggested that the real problem was "that the raw material of Rexall, the pharmacist committed to entrepreneurship via independent pharmacy ownership, was simply drying up. Too bad."

I saw this trend too in the '70s and '80s, but today I have seen a growing interest among pharmacy students in becoming entrepreneurs. Perhaps another "Rexall" may not be possible, but learning from The Rexall Story may help those budding entrepreneurs be successful. Those who already are successful entrepreneurs may gain some ideas that will strengthen their operations too.

Mr. Eckel is professor and director of the Office of Practice Development and Education at the School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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