President of CVS Pharmacy on leadership amid the pandemic

The List 2022 honoree Neela Montgomery answers “20 Questions”
By Lottie Watts
Published Oct 20, 2021

CVS Health Executive Vice President and CVS Pharmacy President Neela Montgomery is one of the dynamic leaders on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2022 who will be celebrated at the NRF Foundation Honors in January. She shares her journey to get to her current role, what it’s like to lead CVS during a pandemic and what she sees for the future of healthcare and retail.

Here are a few questions, along with Montgomery’s answers (watch the video above for all “20 Questions”):

What experience helped you the most in retail?

I think that I've always been a great student – a lifelong learner. I really think as the industry has changed in retail, even in the time that I've been in it – 25 years – so much has changed with the impact of technology, and I think being curious about those changes and wanting to learn and adapt has been a critical skillset for me.

How did you get to the role you are currently in?

I joined CVS Health about nine months ago, at a time of great national importance as they started to distribute the first vaccine in the country, having played such an important role in the pandemic.

Before then, as CEO of Crate & Barrel, I really enjoyed my time there building their omnichannel and ecommerce business and being part of a design and creative company, but I was really looking for something that had a real social purpose at a really important time, and given that both my parents are surgeons, I really wanted to work at the interface of retail and healthcare.

How does your company – and the retail industry overall – impact people in every community every day?

I think the pandemic more than any other time has highlighted the role that stores have played for customers. Many of them, including CVS, stayed open and we continued to play a critical role, enabling people to get the convenient products they wanted, but also as a trusted place to fill your prescriptions and to be there for your health and wellbeing.

Our purpose as a company is bringing heart to every moment of your health, and over time, you'll see more and more a part of people's everyday health is managed in the community in our store footprint, often in an omnichannel journey and experience. We're committed to making healthcare simpler, more affordable and more accessible.

What is your leadership philosophy?

I'm really committed to inclusive leadership. I've found great success in being moved into different situations, different countries, different functions – and increasingly I call upon others to bring different voices and learn from them.

The other big component of my leadership style is to be courageous, to make bold choices and always think about where the customer will be rather than where they are today.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The thing I find most rewarding about my job, especially given that I'm responsible for 10,000 pharmacies and 190,000 associates, is really developing talent and encouraging others to achieve their potential. I see my role as being the chief coach in doing that, and I find that incredibly rewarding when people go on to either achieve their potential or their dreams.

The NRF Foundation connects people to an industry that’s a great place to start and a great place to grow. Since 2015, the NRF Foundation Honors has raised the funds to continue to provide programs and resources to help people build better lives and stronger communities. Join us in New York City and be a part of the story of how retail builds extraordinary careers.

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