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Lesson in Leadership

Pharmacy students meet with the CEO of the nation’s largest pharmacy health care company.

On the morning of Feb. 16, several students from Ohio Northern University’s Raabe College of Pharmacy sat eagerly in a conference room, awaiting an important arrival. There was a tangible buzz in the room, an air of excitement. Something was about to happen that these students would never forget.

On this day, Larry J. Merlo, the president and chief executive officer of America’s largest pharmacy health care provider, CVS Health, was coming to Ada to deliver the Sebok Pharmacy Lecture, the College of Pharmacy’s premier annual speaking engagement. These students all shared a similar experience of being CVS interns and, therefore, were invited to meet Merlo. Most college-level interns never have the chance to rub elbows with any of the higher-ups in their respective companies, let alone the CEO. But ONU’s pharmacy students are not most interns.

This is an opportunity I did not believe I would have – this is a dream,” says fifth-year pharmacy student John Mostowy. “This is something that only Ohio Northern University would be able to provide. We always discuss ONU being a family and the faculty and staff caring for us, and them reaching out and making the connections possible for this to become a reality is mind-blowing. It seems surreal.

Merlo’s arrival on campus further reinforced an already strong relationship between Ohio Northern University and CVS Health. CVS Health is the largest employer of ONU graduates anywhere in the world. ONU students routinely gain invaluable experience as interns with the company. In addition to delivering the Sebok lecture, Merlo also met with ONU President Dan DiBiasio and presented the University with a $50,000 grant to support ONU HealthWise’s rural health program and mobile clinic.

But of all the items on Merlo’s itinerary that day, meeting directly with the students who served his company may have been the most impactful. Surrounded by future pharmacists, he shared his aspirations for the pharmacy profession, which are exciting and bold. He explained why it is important for CVS to have a leadership team of innovative entrepreneurs who can advance new developments, philosophies and business practices in the field of pharmacy.

Merlo spoke with the students in a very relaxed and down-to-earth manner. He opened the floor for questions and made sure they knew that he was very interested in hearing what they had to say.

“I think this was a great opportunity because it showed Mr. Merlo’s commitment to the future,” says fifth-year pharmacy student Alleah McWilson. “The fact that he was willing to answer our questions and see what we envisioned and what we wanted really demonstrates his commitment to his and CVS’ value to keeping their employees, pursuing the best and offering us multiple opportunities to expand our practice.”

Merlo’s visit spoke volumes about the fact that he and CVS Health truly value its people, from the lowest rung of the corporate ladder all the way to the top. This, more than being highly profitable or being the biggest or the best, is what’s important to him.

He clearly cares about the future of CVS, the employees, the patients,” says fifth-year pharmacy student Tara Magoto. “In every answer he gave, you could see the passion he has for the company, what it represents and what it can do for the community. I think that really humbled me. He’s an obviously very genuine man.

But Merlo’s visit with these interns is more than just an exciting opportunity for them. It is symbolic of the type of relationship that exists between CVS Health and ONU. CVS is all about making its company better from the ground up, beginning with those just starting out in their educations. ONU excels at producing graduates with the education, experience and desire to hit the ground running, but it is ONU’s commitment to patient-centered care that makes its graduates such good fits at CVS Health.

In 2014, CVS Health decided to remove tobacco products from its shelves – a landmark decision within the world of pharmacy. No major retail pharmacy had ever done so before. The reason the company made such a bold decision reflected where its priorities are: patients maintaining and improving their health. That is, after all, the mission of pharmacy, and it’s something CVS always has in the forefront of its vision.

“CVS Health is a leader in health care and health innovation in America,” says Steven J. Martin, dean and professor for the College of Pharmacy. “We are proud of the strong partnership the Raabe College of Pharmacy and ONU have had with CVS Health for many years. College students and our alumni may be found throughout the company, from interns at the retail level to executive leadership. Our mission in the college overlaps the mission of CVS Health, in that we are both helping people on their path to better health.”

For CVS Health, the feeling is mutual.

“We hold Ohio Northern grads and interns in high regard due to the adaptability, dedication to patients and overall high talent they display in many different positions,” says Tyson Cromeens, senior advisor of professional and college relations for CVS Pharmacy. “This is due to the selection of great students by the school, and the continued excellent education and training that Ohio Northern delivers.”

Merlo’s visit was important and memorable, both for the students he connected with and for the University as a whole. Here is a man who is at the forefront of health care policy in the United States, leading a company that can put ideas into action in a way that very few individuals can. In his Sebok lecture, he shared some of those ideas, and hopefully, after meeting with ONU pharmacy students and listening to what they had to say, he just might have a few more.