Forbes CIO-plus Series: Tim Theriault, Walgreens

February 18, 2013
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A leader that is never settled: as Chief Information, Innovation, and Improvement Officer, Tim Theriault is constantly seeking new avenues for adding business value.

by Peter High, published on


Tim Theriault’s title is more than a mouthful, but it befits the many responsibilities he has at Walgreens.  He is the Chief Information, Innovation, and Improvement Officer of the $72 billion pharmaceutical retailer.  In that role, Theriault is responsible for all of IT, but also “Big I” and “little i” innovations, as he explains herein, centered on revenue enhancement and cost reduction.

It is not a surprise that Theriault would add revenue and costs reduction responsibilities to his role as CIO since he was once the chief technology officer of Northern Trust Bank, but then rose to the role of president of the bank’s corporate and institutional services business.  He now finds himself squarely in the middle of a major healthcare transformation that the company is in the throes of, and sees creative use of information and technology as a key component of that transformation.

(This is the twelfth piece in the CIO-plus series. To read the prior eleven interviews with the CIO-pluses from Waste Management, McKesson, Merck, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Ameristar Casinos, Owens Corning, Marsh & McLennan, ADP, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the San Francisco Giants, as well as a partner in the CIO/CTO practice for Heidrick and Struggles, please click this link. To receive notice about future interviews in the series with CIO-pluses of P&G and others, please click visit the column’s page. in the weeks to come.)

Peter High:
Let’s begin with your title. Can you please describe the three aspects of your title as chief information, innovation, and improvement officer?

Tim Theriault:
I joined Walgreens as Chief Information Officer in October of 2009. In that role, I have been responsible for IT across the organization regardless of the business unit, making sure IT is aligned with the priorities and strategies of all business units in the company and that we are servicing their needs. I also am responsible for integrating all technology, optimizing that technology, and rendering it as efficient as possible.

More recently, I added the Innovation and Improvement roles.  On the Innovation side, I am responsible for a small group that is primarily responsible for disruptive technologies.  We encourage innovation at all levels of the company.  We engage our colleagues globally to identify innovative ideas to exploit and develop. The innovation team stands apart from the normal way of doing business.  They have different ways of doing things, a faster path to develop new ideas, and the like. I want them to feel unconstrained in their thinking except that they must tie those ideas to our business strategies.  My goal is that we identify opportunities that will yield benefits over $50 million to $100 million, but eventually opportunities that are over a $1 billion in return to the corporation.  Therefore, I’m referring to “Big I” innovation here. We look for the triple play wherever we can, which I define as something that will grow revenue, reduce costs, and enhance the customer experience all at once. We may have innovations that do only one, but truly disruptive ideas can do all three, and technology has a large role to play here.

On the Improvement side, we focus on continuous improvement of our operations. In some ways, this is the “small I” innovation, primarily focused on internal processes and cost efficiencies, and extremely important to operating successfully.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • What was the logic in having a single executive undertake all three of these?  Was there a need that was considered unmet?
  • Do you have staff dedicated to your three areas of focus, or are there others like you who operate across all three?
  •  What are the mechanics of this process of aligning ideas to strategy?
  • Can you describe the steps you go through in order to understand the customer, to enhance the online business, and to integrate new health care products that support the core retail activities?
  • You mentioned the need to fail fast.  Was that a cultural leap for a large, going concern like Walgreens?
  • Having spent time with P&L responsibility, did this equip you unusually well for the responsibilities you now have?

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