CVS Caremark Snuffs Out Tobacco, But How Far Will They Go?

What's their long-term strategy after the publicity dies down?
Feb 12, 2014 11:00 AM ET
What's their long-term strategy after the publicity dies down?

CVS Caremark Snuffs Out Tobacco, but How Far Will They Go?

A great development last week from the evolving world of companies aligning business strategy with their social purpose – the splashy and heavily p ublicized decision by the US-based CVS Caremark pharmacy chain to “stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products at its more than 7,600 stores nationwide by October 1, 2014.” CVS’ own full-page ad in the Boston Globe summed it up best by saying “The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.”

What I like about all of this is bringing the purpose of the business front and center. My colleagues Marc Pfitzer and Valerie Bockstette talked about this trend of re-aligning business strategy with social purpose in their September 2013 HBR article on the role of shared value in the social innovation process. This trend isn’t completely new; for example, doesn’t it seem like IBM has been building Smarter Planets and cities for a few years now instead of selling mainframes? But what is new, or at least still clearly evolving, is the translation of these top-line reformulations of business purpose into concrete business strategy decisions. In other words, we’re all about a Smarter Planet now – at a high level, we’re sold on it. But what does that mean in the 100+ geographies and numerous client segments in which your company works? How does that change how you develop, sell, and market products and services? How do you make capital allocations differently with that business purpose in mind, and how do you communicate success to Wall Street differently?

Given this ongoing evolution to purpose, there’s a deeper and more interesting story that I’d like to know behind the announcement. It’s the story of the business decision-making process, the executive conversations, the financial modeling, the consumer demand analysis, and the vendor conversations that all led to this moment. Visibility into that process would clearly indicate the depth and thoughtfulness in which CVS Caremark is considering these decisions and – perhaps most intriguingly – how far the company is willing to go in order to align their purpose with their business strategy...

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