Walgreens, Automation, And Erasing Disabilities

Randy Lewis, Sr. VP, Walgreens, retired
Randy Lewis, Sr. VP, Walgreens

Amid news of our disfunctional Congress, more mass gun violence and negative economic news last week, I received the links to the following uplifting videos about Walgreen’s Anderson, South Carolina distribution center.  After watching them, I have determined that you must see them.

Click the link to watch what I think should have been called, “Walgreens, Automation, and Erasing Disabilities, Part 1” (but instead is called “The Coolest DC in the World…Part 1”):


and, “The Coolest DC in the World…Part 2”:


My original interest in watching these videos was to see all the automation they have added to this particular distribution center.  (“What?  They’re running pharmaceuticals down a tilt-tray sorter?  How unique!  I’ve got to see that.”)  but after the first minute or so I was struck by Walgreen’s dedication to offering real jobs to people with certain disabilities like autism, blindness, cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, mental retardation and many other conditions in this facility.

Too often, people with those kind of life-long disabilities are unable to support themselves because they can’t find anyone who is willing to overlook their apparent disabilities and give them a chance to prove what inherent abilities they have.  But that is precisely what they are willing to do at the Anderson DC.  The automation enables people with these kinds of disabilities to perform essential tasks just as reliably as those without any mental or physical disabilities.  And so, 40% of the Anderson workforce has some type of disability.  This is a perfect use of warehouse automation and Walgreens applies it liberally.

Angela Mackey,
Angela Makey, Career Outreach Coordinator for Walgreens, Anderson, SC

I had read about this DC and the Walgreen program to hire people with disabilities before–you may have too.  In fact, it was initiated back in 2002.  What is new are these amazing videos that include very compelling interviews with Angela Makey, the Career Outreach Coordinator for the facility, Desiree Neff, and Randy Lewis, the Sr. VP who’s idea it was and who lead the corporation to make it a reality.

Desiree Neff
Desiree Neff, Walgreens, Anderson, SC

The videos are a clever marketing device for the vendors whose equipment is in use in the facility, Schaefer Systems, but who cares.  My heart nearly burst with joy as Desiree Neff explained how she and her adult son actually moved from San Diego to Anderson just to get a meaningful job in this special facility.  They are both disabled, both are employed, and both are now able to support themselves financially, because of Walgreens.  I’m betting their dedication to Walgreens and their jobs runs deep.  According to the videos, absenteeism and turn-over are very low at the Anderson DC.

It shouldn’t be surprising.  Disabled people want exactly what everyone else wants:  a place in society where they have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to a team effort, meet and collaborate with other people and make a living wage that allows them to support a family.  A meaningful job provides a healthy dose of self-esteem–a great medicine against just about any ailment.

Thankfully, Walgreens was willing to put in the extra effort needed to fit the jobs around various types of disabilities through the application of automation technologies.  The result is that the existence of those disabilities no longer has any bearing on the ability to perform the jobs as well as anyone else could.  Walgreen’s willingness to expend this extra effort–not just at the Anderson DC but in their other DCs and stores as well–shows a remarkable level of compassion and understanding that is very unusual in corporate America today.  This needs to spread to other companies.  At least until everyone who wants to work has the opportunity to work, regardless of disability.  (Click here to see Walgreens Disability Inclusion page.)


I understand from the video that Randy Lewis is retiring.  In my career I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on a “Randy Lewis project” for Walgreens when I worked for Professional Automation Systems (PAS/PCC…now LightningPick Technologies) back in the early 1990’s.  It certainly wasn’t as special as the one at Anderson, but it was a memorable project nonetheless.

I led the project from the PAS/PCC side that automated the Rx Drug Returns department in their Windsor, Wisconsin DC.  During that time I met Mr. Lewis at least once, and had the pleasure of working with members of his team in the Logistics and Planning department.  What I learned from that experience is that Mr. Lewis likes to push envelopes and shatter traditional barriers.  Clearly, he has done both in Anderson.

Now that Mr. Lewis will no longer be present in the corporation I hope that someone else at Walgreens will be able to pick up his torch and keep spreading this unique employment program to all of their facilities.  And for Randy Lewis I wish a long and happy retirement.


4 thoughts on “Walgreens, Automation, And Erasing Disabilities”

  1. Dirk,
    Thanks for Sharing the Walgreens DC Video. This is truly a wonderful place. The concepts regarding the disabled workers are remarkable and inspiring. I have seen this place first hand, did you know that ROC IT Solutions has approximately 60 points of automation within this facility, all on the outbound shipping side? Our RFID Dock Door portals are shown briefly in a few of the images in the video.

  2. Dirk,
    What a great thing to share! Amazing! One of the first things they taught us in Business School (many years ago) was to hire the best. Walgreens has taken this to a whole new level. They’ve redefined “best” to include all types of people. Low turnover is huge in a distribution facility like this! Kudos to them for innovation like this!

  3. Dirk,
    Wonderfully inspirational videos that you posted. They are great statement about the integration of people and technology to create productivity.
    Keep links to these videos handy every time you are consulting with supply chain leaders at manufacturers and retailers.

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