“I tried to challenge the standards of pharmacy business. No business or profession for that matter should be static. I was not only concerned with basic pharmacy services but the atmosphere we created through look and feel to make patients comfortable for an interaction with their healthcare provider.”
- University of Toronto – pharmacy
- Schulich School of Business – MBA
- Executive VP Shoppers Drug Mart
Virginia Cirocco rose to the position of Executive Vice President of Shoppers Drug Mart during her successful 14-year tenure. During this period of constant change within the company, she contributed to its significant growth and greater emphasis on innovation in patient care. Virginia retired from Shoppers in 2009 to devote her energies to a number of not-for-profit organizations. She continues to maintain an active involvement in the pharmacy industry as a volunteer.
How did you start your career?
I originally chose pharmacy because it was a great health profession that offered flexibility and security. When I graduated and started to practise in community pharmacy, it was quite different than today. Although patient interaction and counselling were being taught and encouraged in university, they were rarely done in community practice. I clearly remember an incident where there was a problem with a patient’s prescription. When I approached her to have a discussion and get more information, she became very upset with me for even talking to her and she felt that her condition and prescription were none of my business.
What drove you in your career beyond that point?
Early on, I decided that I wanted a role in management since pharmacy was a perfect combination of healthcare and business. Since this was an uncharted path for women, I felt that being more than qualified by having an MBA seemed like an appropriate strategy to pursue. So I enrolled at Schulich School of Business at York University and studied part-time while I worked as a pharmacy manager for Kent Drugs.
When did you actually go into management?
While I was still completing my MBA, there was an opening for a District Manager in the company. I boldly applied for the position. Even though Kent Drugs was part of a large corporation there were very few women anywhere in management at that time. With the support of a progressive male HR manager, they took a risk and I was offered the position, and I was able to progress through the organization until I reached the VP of Operations role.
Have you ever wanted to work outside of pharmacy?
In a way I did. After Kent Drugs merged with PharmaPlus, I wanted to do something different, so I joined Livingston Healthcare, a third-party logistics company servicing the pharmaceutical industry. It was a small and highly entrepreneurial company that encouraged innovation and risk taking. This allowed me to work in a wide variety of roles and build new services and business from the ground up.
The lure of retail pharmacy returned when I was approached by Shoppers to become their VP of Pharmaceuticals. The company was then building a centralized supply chain capability where I could use what I knew about retail and what I had learned about logistics to build something from the ground up again.
How did you grow your career when the senior management was predominantly male?
At the beginning, I pretended not to notice when I was the only women woman in the room or when a group of my male colleagues stopped talking when I approached. It was easier and safer that way.
Every organization has jobs with opportunities for you to develop better solutions. I would tell women who want to succeed to fearlessly go where you might feel you are not necessarily welcome, do the hard work, be incredibly diligent and put your ideas forward.
Leaders in Pharmacy, including this independently written article, is supported by GenMed, a division of Pfizer