Robert Narveson receives Distinguished Alumni Award

A job in college led Robert Narveson, a 1984 graduate of MSU Moorhead, to his life’s calling.

Narveson is president and CEO of Thrifty White Pharmacy, a chain with operations in six states and headquartered in Plymouth, Minn. He has spent his entire career working in the retail pharmacy industry.

He is also the recipient of MSUM’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award. The award recognizes alumni who have made significant contributions to their professional fields and communities and who are at the peak of their professional careers.

“I’ve seen the drugstore industry grow and change a couple of times over,” he says. “The work is never dull. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Narveson attended MSUM after graduating from Fargo South. He was looking for an affordable, quality school that would allow him to step out into his career and move forward.

He enjoyed his studies in criminal justice and sociology and expected to attend law school. But because he wanted to graduate without debt, he worked 30-40 hours a week as a clerk at Osco Drug stores in Fargo. As he neared graduation, the drugstore chain offered him a spot in their management training program.

“That’s when I learned that you should say yes to opportunities that are presented to you,” he says.

Narveson worked for Osco Drug for six years, moving from South Dakota to Idaho to Colorado. In 1990, he joined Thrifty White Pharmacy, where he has spent the rest of his career. Throughout the years he has served in nearly every position.

“I like what I do better (than law),” he says. “I made the right choice.”

Under Narveson’s leadership, Thrifty White has become a leader among chain drugstores. He took it from a struggling company to an employee-owned organization that now brings in around $700 million in yearly sales.   

Among Thrifty White’s successes is creating a delivery system that packages a patient’s multiple monthly medications into daily packets. This allows for efficiencies in delivering the drugs and makes it easier for patients to track and take their medications.

“It’s a disruptive innovation,” he says. “In the industry, we’re always trying to find ways to do things faster and less expensive without affecting the quality of care. This is an innovation that did all of those.”

In addition to his leadership roles at Thrifty White, Narveson has also been a board member and executive committee member of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores since 2009; a board member and vice chair for the Chain Drug Consortium; and chairman for the Pharmacy Value Alliance.

Thrifty White is largely successful because of its size, Narveson says. The organization occupies a space between independent pharmacies and larger drugstore chains. Because of this, it can be nimble while affecting change among a large number of patients.

This is important as healthcare becomes more complex and expensive.

Some patients may only see their doctor annually, but they see their pharmacists every month, Narveson says. Pharmacies can play a critical role in healthcare by encouraging patients to take their meds regularly and following up with wellness visits.

“We want to keep our patients as healthy as possible,” he says. “If we can address health issues before it becomes serious or a crisis, we’ve done our job.”

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