“Don’t confuse leadership with friendship…”

“Don’t confuse leadership with friendship…”

As a leader, John Nuttall has built a strong team around him, and works collaboratively with them to achieve a shared vision for independent pharmacy chain Well. He explains what makes this business tick.   

What is it the company does?

Well is the UK’s largest independent pharmacy chain, and the third largest pharmacy operation after Boots and Lloydspharmacy.  As a primary healthcare provider, we offer prescription management; expert health advice; specialist services such as smoking cessation and weight management; treatment for minor ailments; and a diverse range of health and wellbeing products.  Our pharmacists are the first port of call for the health needs of local communities, and work closely with GPs and other healthcare professionals to provide the best patient care.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

I provide leadership and guidance to the Executive Team, setting the vision and the strategic direction for the company.  My role also involves developing an effective governance framework to ensure business excellence and the provision of good quality healthcare services for patients.  Another important element of my role is engaging and influencing key internal and external stakeholders about the value of community pharmacy to secure support and funding, and ensure a collaborative approach in the wider healthcare system.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I am a pharmacist born and bred! After qualifying in 1985, I worked in-store for about 6 years in a customer-facing role.  I then moved into central support roles and became a Retail Operations Director 17 years ago for United Co-operatives. My first MD role started two years later for the Co-operative Group, and in 2014 when the company was bought by Bestway, I became Chief Executive at Well.

What do you believe makes a great leader?

As a leader, I build a strong team around me and work collaboratively with them to achieve our shared vision for Well.  Communication is key and transparency is so important for building trust – I think it’s vital to encourage two-way communication and I operate an open-door policy to ensure I’m approachable to all colleagues, regardless of role.

Great leaders need to get under the skin of the customer – without this in-depth knowledge of who your business serves, the business can never reach its full potential. 

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

We were acquired by Bestway from the Co-operative Group in October 2014, in a deal worth £620 million.  This was an exciting but nevertheless challenging time.  It was a delicate balancing act to maximise the value of the Co-op legacy and build a new brand that instilled confidence in colleagues and customers.  I also had to establish our leadership team as credible and capable to our new owners and ensure that we engaged colleagues along the journey to develop Well advocates and reduce attrition.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I’m partial to throwing myself off mountains actually – that seems to do the trick!  Skiing is one of my passions and great for letting off steam.  Cycling to and from the office every day also gives me space to think for a couple of hours to reflect on the day ahead or mentally offload before I get home to the family.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A motor racing driver or an airline pilot (slightly different from a pharmacist).  I dabbled with my racing dream in my youth, and attempted the pilot route but unfortunately my vision wasn’t up to scratch.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I have a low tolerance for noise in the office – I need to be able to concentrate in my role, so I’m very grateful for my private office space.  I try to have an open office as much as possible, but when I need to focus, I have to shut the door.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Our ambition is to radically challenge the status quo of how pharmacy operates to provide the best customer experience.  This means investing in innovative technology to improve efficiency, and digitising our offering.  This month we’ve launched ‘Well Digital’ as part of our wider transformation programme to do just that. 

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

1.       Stay close to your colleagues and customers to ensure you truly understand what makes the business tick

2.       Maintain a healthy curiosity and an instinctive cynicism - don’t believe everything that people tell you at face value

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Build a strong team of talented and trusted advisors but don’t confuse leadership with friendship – as CEO, ultimately the responsibility is yours to carry.