Chicagoan Phil Burgess, a leader on gay corporate issues, has received a top business honor for his work with Walgreens. Pictured with his recent industry award.
Native of: Memphis, Tenn.
Hobbies: Traveling and gardening.
Favorite vacation spot: Paris.
Favorite sport: College football and tennis.
Favorite pro team: Chicago Cubs.
Hidden skill: Playing the piano.
People don't know … 'That my mother and father were Elvis Presley's Sunday-school teachers.' Burgess has a photo of his parents and Elvis, all sitting in their church.
Quoting Burgess: 'I don't think gay America will totally accomplish the things that we're seeking until we're able to engage the heterosexual community and really help them see why our rights being denied have a negative impact on them. That's our challenge.'
Favorite Quotes: 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,' and, 'Every individual is responsible for the world in which they live.'
Burgess on Mayor Daley: 'It made me proud to be a Chicagoan seeing Mayor Daley's support for the Gay Games, including his appearance and both the Opening and Closing ceremonies.'
Favorite politician: Barack Obama. 'He's just the nicest, down-to-earth guy who truly is committed to equality in the truest sense of the word. He doesn't flinch when you talk about the need to be a more inclusive society. I certainly hope he runs,' for president in 2012.
Phil Burgess sure has come a long way since 1969, when he joined Walgreens as a pharmacy intern right after graduating from the University of Tennessee.
Well, sort of.
Burgess, 59, is still working for the Deerfield, Ill.-based company, yet is now its National Director Pharmacy Affairs. And he is Walgreens' highest-ranking openly gay employee—at a company with more than 195,000 employees.
'If I have a mission in life, it is for people to look back and say, 'Phil Burgess did this or did that, and he's openly gay, so maybe I too can do something,'' Burgess said. 'My goal in life is to make a difference.'
And that he certainly does. Be it locally within the Lakeview community where he lives, or statewide; he is, for instance, the Vice Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Pharmacy and the President of the Community Pharmacy Foundation. He also impacts nationally. Burgess was on the National Board of Directors from 1997-2003 for the Human Rights Campaign and, perhaps more impressively, was an appointed member to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 1998-2002.
'When I speak publicly, the thing I always try to stress is: large organizations have to have confidence in their executives, that their executives will appropriately represent the company,' Burgess said. 'Part of a company's comfort level in an executive is that they know who you are, they know your integrity, your honesty.
'Well, when you're closeted and yet many people know you ( probably ) are gay, what that does to organizations is, it communicates that, 'We can't trust you because we don't have confidence in your integrity, that we don't have confidence in your honesty, that we don't know who you are.'
Burgess recently celebrated 30 years with his life partner, Jim Nutter.
Burgess also has been out almost his entire Walgreens career.
'When I came out years ago, sure, coming out ( as gay ) may have had a negative impact on your career. But not today,' Burgess said. 'Instead, what will have the most negative impact on people's career is not coming out, but rather, staying in the closet and creating a lack of confidence in you from your boss and supervisor.'
Walgreens is the largest drug chain in the country, with about 5,500 stores in 47 States and Puerto Rico ( not in Maine, Hawaii and Alaska ) , including about 400 in the Chicago area. Walgreens' fiscal year 2006 sales for the 12 months were more than $47 billion.
Burgess speculated that at least 10 percent of the Walgreens employees are gay.
That percentage includes, perhaps, Burgess' intern this past summer who, at the least, was questioning his sexuality. The intern, after seeing Burgess' HRC key chain, searched the HRC Web site and learned that Burgess was a founding member in 1999 of HRC's Business Council.
The intern then asked for, and received, a closed-door meeting with Burgess. He then came out about his sexuality and asked for advice.
And who better than Burgess to ask for tips on succeeding in the corporate world, even if you're gay. Burgess, after all, was named as this year's recipient of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores' ( NADCS ) Harold W. Pratt Award, the chain pharmacy industry's highest honor.
Established in 1985, the award recognizes individuals whose activities have contributed to the promotion, recognition, and improvement of the practice of pharmacy. Burgess received the award at the annual NACDS Pharmacy & Technology Conference in San Diego.
The lifetime achievement award is the highest honor for the chain pharmacy industry and Burgess is the first openly gay winner. He also was Walgreens' first winner since 1994 and just the third winner ever from Walgreens.
'I had no idea it was coming,' Burgess said of the award.
But Nutter did—and he even was among the 2,000 attendees at the Closing Dinner ceremony when Burgess was recognized. Event organizers called Nutter about three months earlier and they orchestrated an elaborate explanation why, coincidently, Nutter could be in San Diego at the time for, supposedly, business of his own. But, in reality, it was just so Nutter could be a part of the ceremony.
Burgess acknowledged Nutter from the stage when he was presented with the award, and Nutter was part of the post-event photo-ops.
'Having my partner there and have him able to share in the recognition made the award all the more meaningful,' Burgess said. 'If there's a message here, it is: if you think you cannot be successful and move up in an organization because you're openly gay, well, you can. Walgreens is a very conservative company; not by any stretch are we a liberal company.'
Walgreens was a Premier Sponsor this summer for the Gay Games, held in Chicago. The company contributed $100,000 cash plus significant in-kind contributions.
'Walgreens' support of the Gay Games was a big, big deal for us. It really caused us to step out of our comfort zone,' Burgess admitted.
Walgreens also was responsible for donating a truck-load of water, delivered to the Chicago Hilton & Towers, after scorching heat hit the opening days of the Games.
Burgess did not participate in the Games, though he did attend badminton, soccer, tennis and other events.
'I didn't even think about participating because I knew I'd be consumed with having to make sure everything went smooth, and I thought I was going to be dealing with the media on a regular basis. We assumed that we were going to have all sorts of protests, lots of chaos,' he said.