Featured Leader: Bob Gale

Risk, Originality and Virtuosity Pay OffBob Gale

Early in his career, Bob Gale attended a seminar at a national meeting of the American Society of Consulting Pharmacists, which would guide his footsteps for the rest of his career. It wasn’t a talk given by a national leader in pharmacy; it was a demonstration on the pommel horse by an Olympic gold medalist.

Gale learned that day there are three factors that differentiate the good from the best: risk, originality and virtuosity.

“It was one of the most impressive things I have seen in my career.”

That’s saying a lot, coming from a national pharmacy leader who has helped pioneer U.S. long term care pharmacy. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Gale began his career in community pharmacy in the Twin Cities area. He then quickly set his sights on taking on new risks. He focused his practice on long term care pharmacy, and went on to practice for 30 years as a national provider of services to the institutionalized elderly and disabled.

By the mid-1980s, Gale was president of Pharmacy Corporation of America (PCA), providing drugs and consultative services to 35,000 nursing home patients in three states. In 1986, PCA became a subsidiary of Beverly Enterprises where Gale served as a senior vice president until leaving in 1990. PCA ultimately became Pharmerica and is now a subsidiary of Bergen Brunswig.

Later, as president and chief operating officer of the Pharmacy Division of Horizon-CMS Healthcare, Gale provided the leadership to triple the long term care pharmacy division to $100 million annual revenue, while increasing the “bottom line” from $2 million to $18 million. Gale made one last stop in corporate institutional pharmacy to fulfill a three-year employment contract as a vice president of operations for Omnicare at their corporate offices in Covington, Ky.

Throughout Gale’s career, the three characteristics of risk, originality and virtuosity have influenced his every step. He even made the three factors the subject of his speech when asked to return to his alma mater several years ago to give the prestigious Melendey Lecture, the longest-running program of its kind at the College of Pharmacy.

According to Gale, risk doesn’t mean you “bet the farm” on every decision. “When I manage, I take a look at the upside and the downside, and I always ask, what’s the best case scenario if we undertake this project? What’s the worst that could happen if we undertake this project? I manage to the upside, and look at the downside to try to limit it.”

Not to say he hasn’t made a few mistakes. But he feels these mistakes have honed his leadership style and ability.

“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks – the two go hand and hand. Instead of worrying about the mistake, concentrate on not making it again.”

Gale sees mistakes as a byproduct of originality, the second factor. “We risk to try something different, something nobody’s ever done before.”

For Gale, virtuosity means, “there’s nothing that can’t be done just a little better. I pay attention to detail. If there’s a detail that can be done better, I will do it better. That’s what I hoped differentiated our organizations from our competition.”

Together, these three factors translated to his management style, as well. “I think the actual process of leadership is learned, and no one is ever a born leader. Also, one thing I believe very strongly is that you manage projects, and you lead people.”

The first two questions Gale asks when leading in an organization are, “What motivates this individual?” and “Just how much freedom can this person handle?”

“Which people in your organization really look forward to freedom – which ones ‘covet’ personal freedom – and which ones feel better when you’re watching them carefully? My goal always is to take one of the latter and help make him or her into one of the former.”

Gale learned his leadership skills by getting involved. “Portions of it are learned by trial and error, portions of it can be learned in academia. I think the biggest portion is learned by interacting with peers out in the field.”

Early in his career, professional organizations gave him the opportunities to meet those peers. In 1971, Gale joined ASCP when the organization was only three years old.

“I belonged to the organization that most closely represented my area of interest, and there I was exposed to the best and the brightest in the industry from the time I was barely more than a director of pharmacy.”

Yet Gale believes just attending a meeting is not enough. “You have to become active.” Gale served on the ASCP Board for 14 years, including 12 years as treasurer.

Taking an active role in a professional organization also gave him a broad perspective on pharmacy, something he sees as crucial to the field. “You need to see where the profession is going, and you can’t get this from behind the counter filling scripts, 24/7.”

After completing his final career stint with Omnicare in Kentucky, Gale found he wished to return to pharmacy, and for the first time in his career accepted a non-profit position with a chain of federally-qualified Community Health Centers based in Santa Fe, NM. He oversaw all aspects of pharmaceutical management in more than two dozen clinics scattered throughout rural New Mexico. The clinics served a multi-cultural mix of poor uninsured and underinsured people of the state, and although the primary goal of the clinics was not-for-profit, Gale continued to employ the management tactics and philosophies he had used throughout his career.

Gale finally retired in 2006, and resides in Placitas, NM, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with his wife Irene (also a College of Pharmacy graduate), who recently retired from her position as a clinical account executive with Medco Health Services. Gale enjoys his grandchildren, gourmet cooking, an occasional visual arts class at University of New Mexico, and a second “career” in landscape photography -- an art he first discovered while at the University of Minnesota.

Bob Gale may be reached at RxGale@comcast.net.

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