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Holland & Barrett names Gourlay to lead board

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NUNEATON, England — Holland & Barrett International Ltd. this month appointed former Walgreens Boots Alliance co-chief operating officer Alex Gourlay as its new executive chairman.

Gourlay replaces Michael Casey, who will remain as a non-executive member of the board at one of Europe’s largest health and wellness retailers. Founded more than 150 years ago, Holland & Barrett operates more than 1,000 stores across 18 countries.

“I have always had huge respect for H&B. It is a much loved U.K. institution playing a vital role for health and wellness on an international scale,” Gourlay said in a statement. “The opportunity to help it through its next stage of transformation is genuinely exciting. Michael and the team have done a fantastic job positioning the business for a bright future. I thank them for that and am fully committed to taking their work forward ­successfully.”

Gourlay joins Holland & Barrett after announcing his intention in December to join the board of LetterOne, the Russian-founded company that has held an ownership stake in Holland & Barrett since 2017.

Gourlay’s priority at Holland & Barrett is to deliver on the company’s blueprint for realizing its growth potential and supporting customers to make health and wellness a way of life, the company said.

Holland & Barrett employs more than 7,000 experts in nutrition and product benefits, who support shoppers’ beauty and wellness needs through the company’s own brand ranges, services and solutions.

Gourlay began his career as a pharmacist at the U.K. pharmacy chain Boots the Chemist. He moved to the United States in 2013 to join Walgreens in the wake of its merger with Alliance Boots Group.

He retired as WBA’s co-chief operating officer in 2021 after playing a pivotal role in the transformation of the company and its flagship Walgreens drug chain. For his career-long success in augmenting the role of WBA in pharmacy, health care and retailing, the editors of Chain Drug Review presented Gourlay with the publication’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022.

In bestowing the award, CDR cited Gourlay’s ability to bring people together in pursuit of a common objective. Gourlay joined Boots while attending the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, his hometown. Early on, he came to understand the practical side of retail pharmacy and patient-centric care, CDR said, noting that as a 17-year-old Gourlay spent a lot of time working under the supervision of a pharmacist behind the chemist counter, a department in U.K. drug stores where over-the-counter medications require authorization from a pharmacist before they can be purchased.

“The NHS [National Health Service] encouraged people to go to the chemist counter for primary care before they saw a doctor,” he said. “That’s where I spent all my summers and had a great time, effectively working as a pharmacist’s assistant. I really loved the practice of being in a pharmacy. So, in conjunction with pharmacy school at Strathclyde, that really was my training and development. It was always a combination of education and hands-on experience, working with people in the shops and with real communities.”