Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to realize the right thing to do. That’s what happened to Randy Lewis, senior vice president of distribution and logistics for Walgreens. When he found out his son had autism, “it was a slap in the face,” he said. Having a child with a disability has changed Lewis’ perspective on the employment landscape for people with disabilities. “If my son is like 95 percent of the other kids out there with autism, he’ll never be offered a job.,” he says.
Walgreen’s highest producing distribution center in the U.S. is in Anderson, S.C. In it, 40 percent of the 700 people have a disability such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and traumatic brain injury. We knew it would have to train differently, Lewis says. “They say once you’ve seen one person with a disability, you’ve seen one person with a disability. Everyone is unique,” he adds.
Anderson is literally the No. 1 producing facility, with very low turnover and low accident rates. It includes employees such as Angie, who has a 4.0 GPA and happens to have CP. She sent out 400 resumes after college and didn’t get one job offer, but Walgreen‘s hired her.
There’s a “sense of purpose, being and teamwork” that doesn’t exist at any other of Walgreen’s many plants,” Lewis says. The company also has centers that seek to hire people with disabilities in Connecticut and Texas. It finds many its employees through vocational rehab agencies, which exist in every state.
The Anderson plant cost $200 million to build but “its not about technology,” he says. “It was about a real decision to step forward.” Walgreen’s goal is to hire 1,000 people with disabilities at its centers by 2010 (there are already 670 in Anderson) and 2,000 by 2018.