A leap into the unknown proves loyalty matters

By Victor Paul Alvarez
Contributing Writer
Helena B. Foulkes took a big risk in 1997. The Harvard-educated MBA was doing well at CVS Caremark Corp., working her way up the retail merchandising and buying sector at the Woonsocket-based company. She was comfortable and successful in that role – which is exactly when great executives prove themselves by taking a leap. More

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A leap into the unknown proves loyalty matters

FROM SHOT IN THE DARK TO ROLE MODEL: CVS Caremark executive Helena B. Foulkes built the retail/pharmacy giant’s affinity retail program from scratch, and today it is the largest of its kind in the nation.
By Victor Paul Alvarez
Contributing Writer
Posted 5/27/13

Helena B. Foulkes took a big risk in 1997. The Harvard-educated MBA was doing well at CVS Caremark Corp., working her way up the retail merchandising and buying sector at the Woonsocket-based company. She was comfortable and successful in that role – which is exactly when great executives prove themselves by taking a leap.

Her boss offered her a chance and a challenge. “He asked me to go start an entrepreneurial venture, creating a loyalty program. He had a few ideas, didn’t know exactly what it should be,” she said.

She was to create a team and build a loyalty program from scratch. It was a risk, and there was no guarantee the company would support her ideas. If not, would her old job still be there?

The answer to that question may be in your pocket or purse right now. You know that CVS card on your key chain? You can thank Foulkes for that. She developed the ExtraCare Loyalty Marketing Program. It is the first and largest retail loyalty program in the country, with more than 70 million cardholders nationwide.

“It was an incredibly positive experience for me and for the company. It’s critical to take risks, and I also think it’s really important to always be in a position where you’re slightly uncomfortable, slightly on the edge of your seat,” she said.

Foulkes has been named an industry leader in the creative-services sector for the 2013 Business Women Awards program of Providence Business News. Her formal title at CVS Caremark is executive vice president and chief health care strategy and marketing officer for her company.

Carolyn Castel, vice president of corporate communications for CVS Caremark, nominated Foulkes for this award. In her words, Foulkes has done nothing less than help grow the company into the biggest of its kind.

“Over the course of her career at CVS Caremark, Helena Foulkes has amassed an extensive background in retail and health care marketing and strategy, and she has played an important leadership role in growing the company from its retail roots to the largest pharmacy health care provider in the United States,” Castel said.

Rhode Island residents may take for granted that they are never far from a CVS; that success is not an accident. The company has more than 7,400 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide and is the leading pharmacy-benefit manager, serving more than 60 million plan members. It is a market leader in mail order, retail and specialty pharmacy, retail clinics, and Medicare Part D Prescription drug plans. In the last 20 years, the pharmacy component has grown from 20 percent to 80 percent of all business at CVS Caremark.

“Foulkes is an open-minded and forward-thinking strategist, who has developed a reputation for successfully building product and business-model innovation and for bringing together thought leaders both inside and outside the company,” Castel said.

Along with her slam dunk on the loyalty program, Foulkes created and implemented CVS Caremark’s Maintenance Choice program, which allows beneficiaries to pick up 90-day prescriptions at CVS/pharmacy locations or get them delivered through the mail. She developed and launched the Pharmacy Advisor Program, which closes gaps in care and helps members with chronic medical problems to adopt better practices for taking their medicines.

Foulkes is also leading the company’s work to enhance the ways that CVS customers interact with the company via the Internet. “We are working to transform how people interact with health care and pharmacies,” Foulkes says.

She is also reinventing how the company works with all of its outside stakeholders, with a focus on policymakers and opinion leaders. In addition, Foulkes is leading the effort to build a brand that creates a real sense of pride for the 200,000 employees of CVS Caremark.

On the community side, Foulkes serves on the boards of the National Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Wheeler School.

“I have a lot of young women in this company constantly coming up to me and saying: ‘It’s so great to see what you’re doing.’ They feel empowered by me and lots of other women. It makes me feel really good,” she said.

Her advice to them and every other young woman coming up in the business world is to be focused and flexible.

“I think it’s always very powerful to have a plan, decide what success looks like, but acknowledge blocks along the road. It’s powerful to be flexible. Each of us has a different combination of focus and flexibility.”

Foulkes believes Rhode Island is making the right changes to facilitate more business success stories. “My sense lately is that the leaders of this state are very aware and attuned, trying to make sure that it is a business climate where companies can be successful. Leaders want companies to be successful. I really do believe that.” •

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