Question & Answer

Friday, May 31, 2002

Man who ushered Walgreens into
home medical equipment retires
DEERFIELD, Ill. - At age 59, Paul Pankros is retiring from the only company he's ever worked for: drug store giant Walgreens. Like his father, Pankros logged 43 years with the company. He started working there during high school stocking shelves. He worked there while attending Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., during holiday and summer breaks. He even had a Walgreens Pharmacy Scholarship. Once he graduated with a pharmacy degree in 1966, he earned a position with the company as a pharmacist. After that, he earned positions as assistant manager, store manager, and regional pharmacy supervisor. Then in 1979, he earned his most recent position, director of home medical business services, after ushering Walgreens into the HME market. Twenty-two years later, the company, which reports sales of $24.6 billion, has 30 homecare and IV sites in six states. Yet it appears to be the end of an era for the Pankros family and Walgreens. Pankros, without discontent, reports neither of his two children have decided to follow in their grandfather or father's footsteps. The regional operations manager for Illinois and Indiana, "Corky" Klobucar, has assumed Pankros' responsibilities.

HME NEWS: Was it your idea for Walgreens to enter the HME market?

PAUL PANKROS: Yes. In 1979, I entered the corporate office and presented the idea. Working in drug store operations, I saw a need for it. There were always people inquiring about medical supplies. As a pharmacist, I always knew where the closest medical supplies store was and would recommend they go there. Walgreens takes care of its customers; that's why they come back. Why shouldn't it take care of their medical supply needs, too, and extend the reach of its healthcare business? In 1980, we opened our first homecare site in Chicago.

HME: Why isn't Walgreens moving faster into HME?

PANKROS: Walgreens has a crawl-walk-run philosophy. The company had six acquisitions in four years, which is pretty good. Each acquisition requires a blending of cultures, people, marketing and sales, and systems that takes time. Walgreens wants to do it right, because if you don't do it right, it can create long-term problems, especially with accounts receivables.

HME: Has Walgreens' view of HME changed over the years?

PANKROS: We're doing much more today than we did initially. We started off with a retail location, providing sales, rental and delivery of basic HME. The retail site also provided a large selection of ostomy, urological and other soft goods. The growth in the business in the past few years has been respiratory products and HME and fewer soft goods. Hospital beds, wheelchairs, CPAP and bariatric products are getting to be very strong, too.

HME: Do you see synergies between pharmacy and HME?

PANKROS: The two businesses don't mix inside a self-service business. There are too many complexities in billing, accounting and training. We've kept them as separate businesses in separate locations. I think that's one of the reasons we've been able to stay in the market for so long. Other chains dropped into the market and quickly dropped out because they tried to incorporate home care into their drug stores. There are synergies, though, in that the referrals we have from our drug stores can be transferred to the homecare stores. HME