“Do we have anything for a serious case of chronic CEO?”
Boots was the most trusted brand for decades – Victorian values and all. Now it has slipped down the rankings. Sardip Sandhu flourishes the litmus.
When people think of Boots in the UK, like me, they aren’t always thinking about sturdy footwear; it’s more likely to be their local pharmacy. Few will know that Boots was a business founded from a powerful insight: “the rich get better and the poor die young”.
From this insight John Boot and his son Jesse created a highly successful company, with a clear purpose: “the provision of social healthcare”. I started work there in 1988, 139 years after Boots was founded but it still seemed animated by its original mission. By the time I left in 2017, the company had seen many changes
Jesse’s original approach was simple: healthy people meant healthy communities meant a healthy business. By the time I arrived, this shared vision had developed into a culture that was understood and felt, inside and outside the company. People would do anything to gain the trust of the customer. Decision making didn’t feel difficult: “You just knew what the right thing to do was”. The pride and goodwill this engendered inside the company was immense. There was a “higher calling,” Boots was the most trusted brand in surveys for decades, offering reassurance to customers when they were at their most vulnerable.
Jesse’s company had also researched, innovated and punched way above its weight. It created Boots Healthcare products, thereby inventing the “owned brand business model”. This included Ibuprofen (for which it won the Queens award for Technical achievement 1987) and Soltan along with the five-star sun protection rating system which is now the industry standard. It also created the Advantage card, the first loyalty card from which data could be gathered.
“Jesse’s original approach was simple: healthy people meant healthy communities meant a healthy business.”
Boots had a 300-acre campus in Nottingham with offices, factories and warehousing (many of which are now listed for their unique design), enabling incredibly effective collaboration. Products could be designed and delivered in weeks and they were.
Jesse was also a great benefactor of Nottingham, and he and his wife Florence set up schools and encouraged their workforce to read and write; until 1966 there were lending libraries in Boots stores, along with cafes and tearooms. The University of Nottingham is built on land donated by Jesse.