Featured Leader: Robert Navarro

Robert Navarro

Curiosity Blazes the Path of Leadership

At age 30, with a young family, a biology degree and Army experience, Robert Navarro (B.S. 1976, PharmD 1977) entered the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. He was older than most of his classmates, with more life experience, and he was looking to do something out of the ordinary.

“I owe a great deal to Professor Albert Wertheimer,” said Navarro. “I went to him and asked, what can I do?” Wertheimer told him about a new PharmD program, and with Wertheimer’s encouragement, Navarro went to watch the new wave of clinical pharmacists at work.

“I saw early PharmD's developing their practices. They were real leaders, developing a totally new opportunity for pharmacists. I saw that and wanted to do it,” he said.

Today, Navarro’s curiosity and pioneering spirit have helped him lead the way for innovative pharmacy practice in acute care, community care, long-term care and managed care pharmacy.

He began his managed care career in 1983 with United HealthCare (UHC), where he wrote UHC’s first drug formulary and initiated the first brand drug rebate contracting program. “John Middleton called and asked if I could develop formularies for HMOs. I said sure… what’s a HMO?”

While developing the formularies, Navarro relished the opportunity to do something no one had done before in pharmacy. “We tried things, failed, tried new things. My focus was not on leading groups of people, but on doing something different, some of which required building a team.

“Curiosity was my stimulus,” Navarro continued. “I was curious to do something different. I don’t know if leaders go into it saying they want to lead people, let’s figure out something to do. I think it’s the opposite – you see what you want to do, then bring people together to do it.”

During his tenure at UHC, Navarro was also involved with the creation of the PBM Diversified Pharmaceutical Services (DPS). Navarro went on to serve as pharmacy director of Physicians Health Plan of Minnesota (now Medica). He developed the pharmacy program at Health Net in California where he was vice president of provider services. He also served as vice president of pharmacy and therapeutics at Express Scripts.

He was a co-founder and first president of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP). With Wertheimer, he is the co-author and chief editor of the top textbook used worldwide for managed care pharmacy education, “Managed Care Pharmacy Practice”. Positive learner feedback on the text has been a continuing career reward.

In 1996 Navarro began his consulting practice, Navarro Pharma, which consults with pharmaceutical companies, the managed care industry and the legal profession on managed prescription drug benefit reimbursement, health economic outcomes applications, drug contracting, benefit design and pharmaceutical marketing issues. He writes and speaks nationally and internationally.

In describing his current work leading management consulting and advisory boards, he said “That’s leadership. I’m given a script and objectives that a client wants to accomplish. I’m leading a team of participants for six hours to accomplish the objectives of the client. It’s a sequential process, from disease to specific drug recommendations.”

In 2009, Navarro received the Steven G. Avey Award from the Foundation for Managed Care Pharmacy. The award recognizes leadership, vision and the dedication of pioneers in managed care pharmacy practice.

Navarro’s natural curiosity and optimism shape his leadership philosophy.

“Too often, individuals – students or pharmacists – are waiting for someone to tell them to do something or waiting for approval. When opportunities come up and we take advantage of them, often they work out. The world is waiting for someone to show up and take leadership. When someone tries something, there’s encouragement. We often fail, but the world is very willing to let people try things. People know a lot more than they think they know. Leaders see past their concern for failure and take chances. It’s enlightening to do so.”

This Featured Leader is part of an ongoing series from the Center for Leading Healthcare Change that profiles pharmacy leaders in the community.