In February 2020, Andre Persaud, MBA ’94, was named executive vice president of retail at Rite Aid, the drugstore giant with $24 billion in annual sales.
A month later, he joined top executives to announce a new corporate strategy and growth plan.
And then, the world shut down.
“The traditional 100-day onboarding plan got thrown out the window really fast,” Persaud says.
Overnight, Persaud’s focus shifted to ensuring the health and safety of Rite Aid’s customers and front-line associates across 17 states.
“My day job became COVID response and my night job was building our strategy, all while trying to get to know people and how the organization works,” he says.
To weather the storm, Persaud called upon skills in teamwork, influence and relationship-building he developed as a School of Management student. The Toronto native first earned his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from UB in 1992 and then stayed for his MBA.
“Pharmacy school is very black and white, whereas business school deals in a lot more gray,” Persaud says. “The School of Management tapped into a part of me that I never really used and pushed my creativity and critical-thinking skills. Now, people describe me as having a strong balance of tactics and strategy—or as I think of it, a strong balance of pharmacy and business school.”
Armed with his MBA, Persaud joined Walmart Canada as a pharmacist and within four months was promoted to pharmacy manager. A few years later, he had responsibility for the company’s entire $700 million Canadian drugstore business, as national pharmacy operations manager.
“Some of my most treasured memories are being behind the counter and really helping people,” he says. “But as I started getting into my career, opportunities came along for me to learn and grow, and I was willing to put my hand up.”
Over the next two decades, Persaud shifted industries, moving from drugstores to grocery chains to apparel brands in various vice president roles. At Shoppers Drug Mart, he oversaw national operations as the pharmacy chain nearly doubled its stores throughout Canada. Persaud led store operations for Burlington Stores, a $4.5 billion off-price retailer, and served as the No. 2 executive at Shopko, a now-defunct department store chain.
Along the way, he relished mentorship opportunities—both to learn from other company leaders and to help develop the next generation.
“In each role, the one thing I’m most proud of is building teams and developing individuals who now hold pretty senior roles in many of those companies,” Persaud says.
Today, with Persaud’s return to the retail pharmacy industry—and his promotion in June to chief retail officer at Rite Aid—his career has come full circle. Persaud now leads Rite Aid’s RxEvolution strategy to reimagine the traditional retail experience with a refreshed brand, upgraded digital presence and in-store operations that revolve around a “whole health focus.”
“The retail and health care industries are changing rapidly, and it’s an exciting time to be in this space,” he says. “It’s been an incredibly fulfilling yet long two years, but we’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”
Written by Matthew Biddle