Much More Than a Co-op
Good Luck & Great Vision Sparked the Success of American Pharmacies
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Luck in the business world usually occurs when preparation intersects with opportunity. That’s why Mike Gohlke is one of the luckiest guys in pharmacy to be president of American Pharmacies (APRx), a growing for-profit buying co-op and public affairs advocate for independent pharmacists. After barely 11 years in business, APRx is close to reaching its goal of $1 billion in purchases in Texas.
The genesis of APRx dates to 1999, when Mike left McKesson Corp. to join Walsh Healthcare Solutions, a regional drug distributor that had just partnered with Alabama-based American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc. APCI, founded in 1985, pioneered the model of combining independents’ buying power, and Mike and Walsh President Ron Nelson believed that the ACPI model could be repeated in San Antonio.
“Ron was quite the visionary and taught me some valuable lessons about patience and staying the course. His guidance was instrumental in our blueprint for the future of American Pharmacies,” Mike said.
Walsh started a San Antonio distribution center, which soon reached $300 million in annual sales. Then, about a year later, another retail pharmacy co-op — Legend Pharmacies — was looking for a co-op partner.
“Walsh and APCI had discussions with Legend Pharmacies and expected we would work together,” Mike said. “But Legend chose to go with TrueCare instead. Failing to land a partnership with Legend Pharmacies turned out to be a blessing in disguise — and the impetus to create APCI Texas. “We started selling APCI stock in August, 2001,” Mike said, “and quickly sold about 200 shares to Texas independents.”
The parent APCI board of directors established a five-member council to help shepherd the new business, and Mike was asked to serve as the executive.
“We made monumental differences for independent pharmacies,” Mike said. “In the early years we changed the playing field for independents, not only from a purchasing standpoint, but in advocacy, too.
American Pharmacies is Born
When APCI suggested that APCI Texas become its own entity, Southwest Pharmacy Solutions Inc. (dba American Pharmacies) was created on Sept. 25, 2002. Texas pharmacies holding APCI stock simply swapped it for APRx shares. From Day 1, APRx’s unique core principle was one member-one vote management and 100% member ownership. Whether a member has one or a dozen pharmacies, he or she has a single vote — the true definition of equality for shareholders. The board of directors is composed of shareholder members who are elected by their peers.
The original APRx board members were Ray Carvajal, R.Ph., San Antonio; Buddy de la Rosa, R.Ph., Weslaco; Lynn Everett, R.Ph., Waco; Dennis Helbert, R.Ph., Brownwood; Don Novak, R.Ph., Longview; Gary Rice, R.Ph., Houston; and Bruce Rogers, R.Ph., Victoria. Lynn Everett and Bruce Rogers still serve on the Board.
“A lot of people took a lot of chances to create American Pharmacies,” Mike said. “Those first board members were visionaries willing to take a leap of faith to give independents an organization they could believe in — one that would fight for their interests.”
The Birth of APRx Legislative Advocacy
In 2003 the board hired government affairs specialist Richard Beck, R.Ph., as vice president for pharmacy affairs. Beck had worked 10 years at Texas Pharmacy Association and eight years as executive director of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association. APRx’s success in the Texas Legislature led to the 2009 formation of the Texas Pharmacy Business Council (TPBC), a subsidiary of APRx, and Beck became executive director. In May 2012, Beck left TPBC to pursue other interests and was replaced as executive director by Michael Wright, a longtime advocacy executive for Hoffman LaRoche.
APRx also sponsors a political action committee – GPAC – to help support the election and re-election of lawmakers who support independent pharmacy.
Mike and the current APRx board of directors continue to raise the bar for member services and lay a solid foundation for growth. APRx has now grown to 600+ stockholders and is gaining traction in several states outside Texas.