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Dr. Agwunobi to head health care at Wal-Mart


BENTONVILLE, Ark. Wal-Mart’s health care initiatives will be under the leadership of a new executive following the appointment of John Agwunobi as senior vp and president for the retailers’ professional services division.

Agwunobi currently serves as assistant secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and an Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. In his new role, he will be responsible for Wal-Mart’s health and wellness business unit, which includes pharmacies, vision centers and an expanding network of health care clinics. He will report to Bill Simon, president and coo of Wal-Mart’s $226 billion stores division, which includes the company’s 3,443 domestic supercenters, discount stores and Neighborhood Markets.

“John is the country’s expert on public health and I look forward to his contributions in furthering Wal-Mart’s health and wellness efforts,” said Simon.  “He will bring new perspective, diverse talents and tremendous expertise to our company in his new role.”

Agwunobi was appointed to his current role within Health and Human Services by the U.S. Senate on Dec. 17, 2005 and in that capacity he had a wide range of responsibilities. He served as advisor on matters involving the nation’s public health and science, oversaw the U.S. Public Health Service and was responsible for disease prevention, health promotion, women’s and minority health and the reduction of health disparities. He was also responsible for the federal response to the fight against HIV/AIDS, pandemic influenza planning and vaccine preventable diseases. Details regarding his background on the Web site of Health and Human services also indicate he is also actively involved in the push for improvement in research and enhanced access to quality health care.

Prior to his role at the national level, Agwunobi served as Florida’s Secretary of Health and State Health Officer from October 2001 to September 2005. In this role, he led the state’s public health and medical response to four major hurricanes in 2004 and managed the response to the nation’s first-ever intentional anthrax attack.

During his time with the state of Florida, the careers of Agwunobi and Simon overlapped as Simon served briefly as secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services for the administration of former governor Jeb Bush. After a brief stint at the Brinker International restaurant group, Simon joined Wal-Mart in March 2006 as evp of professional services. He held that role for less than nine months, as he was quickly promoted to his current role as coo, while retaining oversight of the health care businesses.

While Simon brought a new perspective to Wal-Mart’s pharmacy business and spearheaded the $4 generic initiative, with the hiring of Agwunobi, Wal-Mart has secured the talents of an individual who is sure to bring an ever broader health care perspectives to the nation’s largest retailer at a time when it is looking for ways to play a more significant role in the nation’s health care system.

“Wal-Mart touches many lives in many communities and this position provides me with a new opportunity to reach people in the places where they live, work and shop,” Agwunobi said.

His background is certainly more diverse than any of the previous executives who have run Wal-Mart’s pharmacy business. Born in Dundee, Scotland, Agwunobi attended medical school at the University of Jos, Nigeria, where his father was a professor of surgery. He later became a pediatrician and practiced in rural, inner city and suburban communities where he dedicated his practice to working with underserved populations. In addition to his medical degree, Agwunobi holds an MBA degree from Georgetown University and a Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

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