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Boots appoints mobile phone chain boss as new managing director

Current managing director will move to new post of non-executive chairman 

sebastian james new chief executive Boots

Source: Courtesy, Brunswick Group

Sebastian James, new chief executive of Boots, describes leading Boots as a “privilege”.

The chief executive of Britain’s biggest specialist mobile phone and electrical goods retailer has been named as the new boss of high street pharmacist Boots.

Sebastian James will join Boots this summer and take up his new role as senior vice president and president and manging director in September, according to a statement from Walgreens Boots Alliance in the US.

James, who moves from Dixons Carphone plc, will replace Elizabeth Fagan who held the position since July 2016 and has a background in marketing.

Announcing his appointment Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance, said on 19 January 2018: “We are delighted that Sebastian will join our company at an equally exciting and challenging time for the retail environment in the UK and for the future development of Boots, a brand synonymous with pharmacy and care. We are sure his deep retail expertise will drive significant progress and innovation at Boots for the benefit of all our stakeholders.”

He paid tribute to Fagan “for successfully running the business for the last 18 months.” She is due to take up the newly created company role of non-executive chairman.

James, who has been chief executive at Dixons Carphone since 2014, started his career as a management consultant. He was previously chief executive officer at Synergy Insurance Services and Silverscreen Holdings.

He said he was “very excited” about his new job and added it was a “privilege” to be leading Boots which he described as “one of the UK’s most iconic, venerable and trusted brands.”

He said: “At a time of unprecedented change in both the retail and healthcare markets, to build on the fantastic work that the team have done over the last few years, and to be a part of the next chapter for this great company is an extraordinary opportunity.”

The Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU) — which is in dispute with Boots over seeking trade union recognition for its UK pharmacists — said it hoped that James will be able to “grasp pharmacy.”

The PDAU’s national officer Paul Day said: “Pharmacists are part of the tax-funded NHS system; we need people who understand about healthcare. These corporations have a retail interest but it’s important that people understand about pharmacy and healthcare.”

Boots was previously led by Simon Roberts who stepped down from the company in July 2016 to “pursue new opportunities”. His departure came only months after reports in The Guardian newspaper that Boots had put pressure on its pharmacists to complete unnecessary medicine use reviews in order to make money from the NHS. The claims were denied by Boots.

The company was again in the headlines in July 2017 in a row over the price of its emergency hormonal contraceptive (EHC) compared with its competitors’ and controversial comments by its chief pharmacist.

A BBC documentary, screened in January 2018, featured allegations of unsafe pharmacy staffing levels at the chain. Boots denied these allegations and viewers were told that an investigation by the General Pharmaceutical Council found that there was not sufficient evidence to suggest a risk to patient safety across the organisation.

This article was amended on 25 January 2018 to reflect the fact that Simon Roberts is not a pharmacist.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20204286

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