A pharmacist by training, Ornella Barra is chief executive, pharmaceutical wholesale division, at Alliance Boots, the Switzerland- based mass retailing giant with revenues of 22.5 billion pounds (about $36.65 billion at current exchange) for the fiscal year ended March 2010. In her role, Barra is responsible for developing Boots International outside of the U.K. and Ireland, overseeing retail expansion and everything concerning Boots products—including beauty. During her tenure, she has conquered Norway, Holland, Thailand and the gulf region, as well as myriad European countries. Next up: America, where she hopes to make Boots Laboratories skin care into one of the market’s major brand forces.
You’re a trained pharmacist, and opened your own pharmacy early in your career. How has your background informed your current position? My DNA always remains a pharmacist’s. I work on the principle that to do something well, it must be understood. So being a pharmacist helps me understand the métier. In reality, I do a job that is totally different, because in the end, it’s more the work of an economist. The majority of our clients are pharmacists: Each day I deliver to more than 150,000 pharmacies, two times daily, in more than 20 countries with almost 400 depots. Each country is different, in terms of culture, legislation, price and packaging. I consider myself the ambassadress of independent pharmacists on the European level. I developed in 1999 the European Pharmacists Forum, a grouping of pharmacists. Today, it includes nine countries and each has three to four representatives. We meet every three months in different European countries. It gives me the possibility to better study our strategy for the pharmacy itself. Additionally, the University of Nottingham named me a special professor and that again is a good opportunity to have lectures with young potential pharmacists.
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