McKesson’s Executive Alliance Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

Since 1999, the Executive Alliance has been starting and shaping important conversations.

Read time: 3 minutes

By: McKesson Health Systems Editorial Team

Since 1999, McKesson’s Health Systems Pharmacy Executive Alliance has been bringing together thought leaders, executives, and other stakeholders to start and shape some of the industry’s most important conversations as part of a broader vision to advance the health system pharmacy enterprise’s contributions to the business of pharmacy.

Over these last 25 years, Executive Alliance (EA) members have used this forum as an opportunity to share peer-to-peer insights, hear directly from McKesson executive leadership, and better understand the nuances and business implications of complex issues facing the health system pharmacy in order to develop solutions that can make an impact at the customer level and across the landscape as a whole – ultimately with one goal in mind: improving health outcomes for all.

As we celebrate a quarter-century’s worth of collaboration, innovation, and accomplishment, we’ll take a closer look at the evolution and contributions of the EA – both achieved and ongoing – from the unique, historical perspective of founding members, past chairpersons, and longtime partners.

An offer they couldn’t refuse

Having served as President of the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the Federation of International Pharmacists (FIP), receiving a host of prestigious honors including the coveted Harvey A.K. Whitney award, and authoring countless publications nationally and internationally, few names are more recognizable in the modern world of health system pharmacy than Tom Thielke, BSPharm, MS, FFIP, FASHP. While Thielke considers the success of his 200+ pharmacy administration residents among the most fulfilling and enduring achievements of his legacy, helping to establish the EA and acting as its first chair for 20 years holds an important distinction of its own – earning him the honorary title, “Godfather of the EA.”

In the late 1990s, while serving as Director of Pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) – most recently Senior Vice President, Professional and Support Services prior to assuming the role of Emeritus Professor at the UW School of Pharmacy following his retirement as SVP– Thielke also sat on the advisory board of Automated Healthcare, which was acquired in 1996 by McKesson. Following the acquisition, Thielke and others flew to Northern California to meet with McKesson executive leadership, where they pitched the idea of a “new kind of advisory board” that would allow for an open dialogue between health systems customers and McKesson. Shortly thereafter, the EA was formally established, and the inaugural meeting was held in 1999 at McKesson’s then-headquarters in San Francisco. Every year since, the EA has met annually.

Lessons learned

In addition to providing a direct line of communication between customer and vendor, it didn’t take long for members to realize another benefit – and arguably an even more compelling one – of being part of the EA. “The peer-to-peer conversations came a little after, but to me, those were some of the most important ones,” Thielke recalls. “Frankly, we made each other a lot smarter.”

Jim Hayman, MS, MBA, FASHP, who succeeded Thielke as chair of the EA in 2019 while serving as Chief Pharmacy Office at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), emphatically agrees. “The two-way communication with McKesson was always healthy and helpful, but the number-one benefit was unequivocally the opportunity to touch base with (and learn from) our contemporaries.” As Executive Vice President for the Shared Clinical Services Division at Vanderbilt starting in 2022 – preceded by more than 50 years in health care and leadership roles – Hayman is no stranger to solving unique problems and spearheading change for the good of the health system and the industry alike, deservingly lauded as one of specialty pharmacy’s most respected leaders.

“I always came back with at least one or two action items – those hot topics that had been keeping another health system up at night that weren’t even on our radar yet,” says Hayman, “and I can confidently say the other members did the same.” A few discussions in particular stick out in Hayman’s mind as some of the more memorable and fruitful ones had during EA meetings – many of which resulted in solutions being shared or even uncovered in real time. “We got to hear what our colleagues would have done differently if they could do something all over again, and we could all benefit from that.”

Beyond the curtain

As for the folks “outside the room,” the EA has always upheld its pledge to advance the business of health system pharmacy for all. By working with professional organizations, lobbyists, and others, EA members use their collective voice to get critical messages to policymakers – even to Capitol Hill – in order to effect change across the industry as a whole. Hayman remembers many instances of such conversations. “As a group, we shared our thoughts, our knowledge, our experiences, and our concerns amongst each other – and then we looked at how we could work with HRSA (Health Resources & Services Administration) and other organizations to get those up to the policymakers who could take action for the interest of everyone involved – well beyond the 12 of us sitting in the room.”

In its early years, the EA also worked to publish collective thought leadership pieces. Among the most impactful were articles establishing what they called the “High Performance Pharmacy (HPP)” model, born out of the realization that there was a general lack of literature on best practices for health system pharmacies. The series began with an peer-reviewed article coauthored by Thielke and published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy in 2004, followed by another piece in 2007. This quickly became the footprint for health system pharmacies across the nation to elevate their business practices and become “high performing.” In 2010, ASHP used the HPP model as a framework for expansion, developing the Pharmacy Practice Model Initiative (PPMI) through an invitational summit with 100 health system pharmacy leaders – later rebranded to the Practice Advancement Initiative (PAI). Despite its evolution, the HPP model originally developed by early EA members remains a pivotal benchmark for health system pharmacy best practices.

Building a legacy

Today, the EA continues diversifying its membership and holding annual meetings – with candor and transparency encouraged – for the benefit of all parties. “When you become an EA member, you truly feel like you are part of McKesson – like the door is always open,” Thielke says. “And it goes both ways – we feel like McKesson is part of us.”

According to Dave Ehlert, PharmD, MBA, FASHP, FACHE, McKesson Area Vice President – who currently acts as a host and facilitator for the EA – “With a few exceptions, not much has changed since the EA's inception,” going on to clarify the observation as a positive one. “Productive conversations are still being had, critical lessons are still being learned and shared, problems are still being solved, and everyone – from the members to the industry as a whole and even the patients themselves – is benefiting. We do this not just for each other – but for everyone.”

“Going forward,” Hayman hopes, “I’d love to see our voice grow even louder – to resume putting out thought leadership, perhaps, on topics that resonate with people across the country and the globe in an even more impactful way that will be felt for decades to come.” For now, it’s business as usual, which – as Ehlert reminds us – is a good thing.

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