If you'd asked a Lloyds pharmacist who Cormac Tobin was at the start of March, you'd probably have been met by a blank face. That changed overnight, when the abrupt departure of Celesio UK managing director Mark James catapulted Mr Tobin into the spotlight as the new MD of the UK's second-largest multiple.
A new MD isn't the only change Celesio has experienced in recent years; last year, restructuring merged the UK back-office functions of Lloydspharmacy and AAH Pharmaceuticals, with the Lloyds brand subsequently rolled out across its European pharmacies. The move has seen a steady rise in operating profits through 2012, suggesting the gamble is paying off after 2011's 26 per cent profit slump.
Closer to home, Celesio has been linked to a number of innovative schemes. A ‘new look' pharmacy focusing on skincare and pain management is being piloted in two Lloydspharmacy branches in the UK, and the results were recently described as "very promising" by Celesio CEO Markus Pinger.
It's a legacy Mr Tobin seeks to build on. Mr Tobin is no stranger to Celesio, having headed the company's Irish retail arm Unicare Pharmacy since 2006. Now in charge of the UK arm, he seems to relish the prospect of taking over the reins.
"Celesio has been on a march to bring consolidation to its pharmacy network and the UK is pivotal," he enthuses. So what can pharmacists expect?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, first on Mr Tobin's list is improving patient care, and he views the current health climate as an opportunity for Celesio to play a "pivotal role" in delivering healthcare.
"Governments are going to be continually under pressure to deliver a very high level of healthcare at a lower cost," he explains. "It's about helping the government spend its money very sensibly."
He points to medicines compliance as one way Celesio can meet this growing need. "The figures for compliance worldwide are horrific," he says. "We see ourselves playing a bigger and bigger role in identifying these people, helping them avoid diseases and then managing them in the best way."
He sees an opportunity to direct patients to linked medications. "Another thing which is very successful and which many companies have been doing is linking prescription medicines to on-the-shelf medicines, like probiotics and antibiotics," he adds.
Meeting these health challenges will require the latest technology, something Mr Tobin is keen for Lloyds to exploit. "The health industry hasn't utilised technology as much as others have," he says. "I think we could be at the crest of phenomenal innovation to help people live longer."
"You've seen the technology where they can diagnose at home and send [the diagnosis] to a doctor. Utilising that technology through the channels we have will be hugely instrumental in giving people solutions they want."
In Ireland, Mr Tobin has a track record of pushing new technology to the forefront. As managing director of DocMorris and Unicare Pharmacy, he oversaw the creation of a medicines compliance app that was linked to the dispensing system.
"When you get your prescription, you scan a QR code and it automatically populates your app with alarms to take your medicine," he explains.
While his technological credentials aren't in doubt, some Lloyds pharmacists may question the suitability of employing a managing director with a background in retail, not pharmacy. Although there has often been an uneasy relationship between non-pharmacy managers and their pharmacists, Mr Tobin says he views his retail past as a strength.
"I travelled the world working for food retailers in different countries. So that experience of the different retailing climates and environments – I bring that to the party."
That said, he admits that a chief executive "tends to be a well-meaning amateur" and isn't afraid of the inevitable clash of opinions with those more experienced in frontline pharmacy.
"Pharmacists are wonderfully skilled professionals who are brilliant at what they do. I'm going to need the best pharmacists to guide and challenge me as much as I will challenge them. At times it will create dialogue, but that's healthy."
Despite his experience in food retail, he has no plans to follow rival Boots and offer ready meals. Instead, he wants to build on Lloydspharmacy's existing strengths.
"We are not renowned for food or the authenticity of food as a retailer," he explains. "We are renowned for authenticity around pain management. We are renowned for authenticity around screening. If we can do it in the areas we are specialising in, we can be very successful."
It's clear that Mr Tobin is enthusiastic about the challenges ahead and confident he can meet them.
"I've got a huge amount of energy in inspiring people and giving them clear direction," he says. "My own personality is one of strong personal values and a high work ethic and I believe that businesses like this are built on people."
Under Mr Tobin's leadership, it doesn't look like the pace of change at Celesio will ease. "I'm very much blessed by the quality of people I've met in Celesio UK and inspired to this new challenge," he says. "They've brought together two parts of the business wisely and they're learning to walk together. I think the timing is right for the leadership to take it to its next level."
August 2011 Celesio announces plans for a new strategy to expand Lloydspharmacy's OTC business, including a "price offensive", extended opening hours and a new website for its mail-order business
November 2011 Celesio reports that operating profits fell 18.7 per cent in the first nine months of 2011, but that it is "on solid ground again"
August 2012 Celesio posts a 10.1 per cent increase in operating earnings, days after announcing it is set to make up to 120 staff at its UK head office redundant as Lloydspharmacy and AAH share their back-office functions
September 2012 Lloydspharmacy joins Boots, the Co-op and Rowlands to launch the Community Pharmacy Future project
December 2012 Lloydspharmacy abandons its two health villages, admitting they were "a bit premature"
March 2013 Cormac Tobin replaces Mark James as MD of Celesio UK
March 2013 Celesio CEO Markus Pinger hails a 4.5 per cent profits rise as a strengthening of its "competitive position" in the market