By Edward Cone  |  Posted 2003-06-01 Print this article Print

Retailing is getting cutthroat. In major metropolitan areas, direct rivals are opening up shop across the street, daring the other to blink and pull up stakes. Among neighborhood pharmacy chains, Eckerd is now in a fight for its life, as Walgreens threate

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Roadblock: Queasy Job Candidates


Rebuilding Eckerd's information technology department in 2000 meant hiring about 500 qualified workers over the course of six months. The logical place to look for people was at IBM Global Services, which had managed Eckerd's technology from 1993 until the drugstore chain decided to take back control of its data. But convincing IBMers to leave a then-booming high-tech company for a retail chain with a shaky recent history was not a sure thing. IBM offered good pay, benefits including technical education, and held out the promise of career advancement. "We were concerned in making this appealing," says Eckerd Chief Information Officer Ken Petersen. Yet Eckerd was successful at recruiting the personnel it needed from its former outsourcer, hiring about 40% of its new information technology staff from IBM Global Services—a very healthy rate, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Rich Matlus.


Fill key spots early. By quickly hiring team leaders, including some from IBM, Eckerd had managers in place who could deal with and work with prospective rank-and-file hires on a personal basis. That gave Eckerd's start-up department credibility with job candidates by showing its ability to attract management talent, while letting managers assemble the teams they thought would work best together.

Bring out the brass. Eckerd invited prospective hires to meetings at a country club to meet with Chief Executive Wayne Harris and CIO Petersen. The chief information officer and his senior staff outlined their plans for information technology, first in broad strokes, such as deploying standard tools and processes. That meant the skills learned at Eckerd would be marketable in the future, and then in specifics, which included outlining software initiatives that would appeal to developers.

Create a desirable culture. Eckerd promised a chance to be in at the beginning of something new and exciting instead of a spending a career navigating the vastness of IBM. For people who wanted to live near Tampa, Fla., Eckerd offered stability.

Make it easy to switch. Accrued benefits like vacation days and vesting status in the IBM retirement plan transferred to the new job. Eckerd couldn't always match IBM's pay, but it used signing bonuses as an incentive.

Senior Writer and author of the Know It All blog

Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.

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