• Former Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson was inspired to be a more instinctual leader by a quote he read in Sports Illustrated.
• He told Business Insider about a time his strategy helped him break open a market for the chain in Los Vegas.
Since childhood, ex-Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson has been a diehard Oakland Raiders fan.
In those days, his home state of Indiana didn’t have its own football team. A fearsome rivalry cropped up in the Wasson household — the former CEO of the $US80 billion company gravitated toward the Raiders, while his brother rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, in business, he adhered to some sage advice he attributes to the late Chuck Noll, a longtime Steelers coach who led the team to four Super Bowl victories.
Wasson remembers reading the quote in an issue of Sports Illustrated magazine: “90% of the time, people have gut instincts, 90% of the time they’re right, and 90% of the time people ignore them.”
Wasson liked the phrase so much he got it printed on his briefcase as a young professional, and he clung to the advice as he climbed the managerial ladder, from intern to CEO.
“I was always an instinct-driven leader,” he told Business Insider. “I do believe that that’s the way it should be done, versus letting data drive every decision.”
He put those instincts to use after Walgreens moved him to Las Vegas to expand the company’s reach in the mid-1990s. One night, Wasson and his wife went out for dinner and a show on the Las Vegas Strip. Walgreens had about four stores in town, at that point.
“I pulled up to an intersection on the way home with one of our stores on the northwest corner,” Wasson said. “It was probably 11:30 at night. The store was closed. It closed at 10 o’clock, so it was dark.”
But, looking around, Wasson realised something.
“There were 20, 25 cars in each road at the intersection,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘Here we are in a 24-hour town, with a third of the workforce working the overnight and my store is closed.’ So we opened every store 24 hours.”
Wasson found that going with his gut paid off.
“It really blew the market wide open for us,” he said.
Wasson stayed on at Walgreens until the retail chain completed a merger with Boots Alliance in 2014. He now runs investment office Wasson Enterprise with his family. But he still keeps in mind the advice that helped him out in Las Vegas.
“I try to encourage leaders to trust their instincts and use data to validate or invalidate them,” he said.
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