After a decade at Boots, Simon Roberts has been given his chance to lead the UK health and beauty business as Alex Gourlay heads to Walgreens.
Roberts started his Boots career as regional director for London and the South in 2003 after cutting his retail teeth at M&S where he joined as a fresh faced 18 year old.
Roberts was quickly promoted to stores director of Boots in 2005 and not long after was tasked with one of the greatest challenges any retailer could face when the retailer revealed it was merging with pharmacy giant Alliance Unichem. Roberts had the job of integrating their 2,300 combined store estate.
Roberts was very hands-on with mammoth task. In an interview with Retail Week in 2008, he said: “The key to making the integration of the store operations work was to do it from the ground-up, and that means getting out into the stores and seeing how to make it work.”
He has a passion for people and believes Boots is the trusted brand it is because of its staff and the culture. In fact, creating the best retail employment brand in the UK was one of his major goals in merging the Boots and Alliance Pharmacy.
He strives to engage his staff and his overarching principle during the complex merger was to be open with the workforce, in particular with store leaders, which he said drove the change.
He told Retail Week in a previous interview that “having the best people is what really fires me up”.
The merger was clearly a success and Roberts was duly recognised in 2011 with a promotion to joint chief operating officer with Ken Murphy, who will now lead Alliance Boots’ international and brands business.
Gourlay, who has been chief executive since 2009, believes there will be a smooth transition in management when he hands over the baton to Roberts and Murphy. He said: “Simon and Ken have been part of the success but I’m always the one who gets the glory. They’ve done amazing jobs.”
And Roberts’ experience in seamlessly merging two colossal businesses will undoubtedly be crucial over the next few years as Walgreens has the option to take full control of Boots in 2015.