Pass it on: CVS CEO says the learning should never stop

Larry Merlo has learned a few things during nearly eight years as CEO of one of the nation's biggest drugstore chains — including that you shouldn't ever stop learning.

CVS Health Corp. is polishing off a $69-billion acquisition of the health insurer Aetna. The company, which also manages pharmacy benefits, is focusing more on providing in-store health care services and telemedicine, as retailers face pressing competition for product sales from the online giant

Merlo shared some of his insights and experiences as a business manager with The Associated Press.

Q: Everyone faces competition. How has Amazon affected how you look at your business, especially the store areas outside the pharmacy?

A: We work tirelessly in terms of what is it that we need to do to meet the needs of the customers and the clients that we serve. If we're doing our job in that regard, then we don't leave any white space to be disrupted by others.

Q: What are the key things you look for in evaluating a possible acquisition?

A: It starts with the strategy of the company and what are the various ways in which that can be achieved. Is it through acquisition, some type of partnership or joint venture? Then, the things that you would expect in terms of the quality of the potential acquisition, the quality of (its) leadership, and you go from there.

Q: What advice would you give your younger self about managing people? What did you learn from your early mistakes?

A: The learning never stops. It doesn't matter if you're the CEO or someone who is working their way up the ladder. There are times when I am a teacher, and there are also times when I'm a student, whether it's learning from our customers or learning from our colleagues. Making sure that one never loses that perspective is important.

Q: What have you learned about problem solving? What are the keys to tackling your most difficult challenges?

A: It's important to take time to understand the problem. Oftentimes when someone sees a particular problem or issue, they jump into solution mode and sometimes they don't take the time to make sure that they're solving for the right problem.

Q: What is the best business advice you've heard?

A: You can never forget where you came from and the impact that individuals had on your journey and how do you make sure that you continue to pay that back to others. I think that speaks to the value of having a collaborative, high-performing team. Collectively, you can get much more done and much more accomplished than a group of individuals working as individuals. I've always worked hard to practice that.


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