Look Back to Move Forward

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

Philosopher George Santayana'sfamous quote, "Those who do not rememberthe past are condemned torepeat it,"reminds us that the past isoften prologue to the future. In today'sworld, however, where actions seemmore valuable than thoughts, we seem topay less attention to the past. The skill ofreflection is too often ignored, and thenwe wonder why we do not progress.

Motivational speaker Terry Paulsonsuggests "that future focus is oftenenhanced by taking a look back at pastexperience and strengths that give directionto our journey."That also was AppleComputer's founder Steve Jobs' messageto Stanford University graduates:"None of my college classes had even ahope of practical applications in my life.But, 10 years later, when we weredesigning the first Macintosh computer,it all came back to me. You can't connectthe dots looking forward; you can onlyconnect them looking backward."Inorder to prepare for the future in pharmacy,sometimes it is helpful to look atpharmacy's history.

When I recently read the new book byMickey C. Smith, RPh, PhD, The RexallStory: A History of Genius and Neglect, Iwas reminded of the value of reading historyand learning from the past. I knewabout the Rexall brand but never workedin a Rexall store nor interacted with anyRexallites. So, I had not appreciated thegenius of Louis K. Liggett, who startedthe United Drug Company in 1902. Thename was changed in 1945 to UnitedRexall Drug Company and to Rexall DrugCompany in 1947.

The book's 10 chapters are dividedinto 3 sections: Part I: The Liggett Legacy;Part II: Marketing Rexall; and Part III: TheDart Era. As I read, I kept thinking that apharmacy manager could use most ofthese same ideas to achieve successtoday. I also thought of tried-and-truebusiness principles that work, and whenwe ignore them we usually pay a price.

In the Preface,Dr. Smith stated that thecompelling reason for writing this [book]was to try to understand what happenedto the 10,000 Rexall druggists. In theAfterword, he suggested that the realproblem was "that the raw material ofRexall, the pharmacist committed toentrepreneurship via independent pharmacyownership, was simply drying up.Too bad."

I saw this trend too in the '70s and '80s,but today I have seen a growing interestamong pharmacy students in becomingentrepreneurs. Perhaps another "Rexall"may not be possible, but learning fromThe Rexall Story may help those buddingentrepreneurs be successful. Those whoalready are successful entrepreneursmay gain some ideas that will strengthentheir operations too.

Mr. Eckel is professor and director ofthe Office of Practice Developmentand Education at the School ofPharmacy, University of NorthCarolina at Chapel Hill.