Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler Retires Suddenly
Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler Retires Suddenly
Jeffrey Kindler, who became chairman and chief executive of Pfizer suddenly and unexpectedly a little more than four years ago, is now retiring suddenly and unexpectedly.
Pfizer’s board named the company’s head of global pharmaceuticals, Ian Read, to succeed Kindler. The board will select a new chairman from its membership at its regularly scheduled meeting, to occur in a few weeks.
In 2006, Kindler, now 55, was Pfizer’s general counsel and an underdog in the race to succeed Henry McKinnell, the imperious leader who had overseen Pfizer’s purchase of partner Pharmacia. The other two candidates, head of marketing Karen Katen and chief financial officer David Shedlarz, had been McKinnell’s rivals for the chief executive job four years before. Kindler’s claim to fame was turning around the Boston Market division of McDonald’s.
But Kindler presented the board with a vision of how Pfizer could break with the past. Shortly after taking command he argued that Pfizer should eschew big acquisitions and bet on its research laboratories. That was a brave wager, because the company had built itself on big deals, and has gone through a decade-long dry spell when it comes to inventing new drugs. (See this piece, Drug Drought, from 2007.) Kindler stuck with this idea, even after the biggest drug in his pipeline failed five months into his CEO-ship.
The strategy failed. The biggest new drug launch, for the anti-smoking pill Chantix, fizzled over worries about psychiatric side effects. Only recently have several cancer drugs developed internally at Pfizer shown promise. It is too little, too late amid a spate of patent expirations. The biggest ever, for top-seller Lipitor comes next year. Facing the inevitable, Kindler did another deal, purchasing Wyeth for $68 billion. The deal made sense, and some of Wyeth’s divisions, particularly its vaccine unit, are among the strongest parts of the combined company.
But the Wyeth deal still hasn’t revived Pfizer’s stock, even though Wall Street forecasts pretty much show this bit of financial engineering did plug the Lipitor-sized hole in the bottom line.
In Pfizer’s press release, Kindler gave a statement saying that his 24/7 responsibilities had been “incredibly demanding on me personally” and looked forward to some time off with family before his next challenge.
Read, 57, is a Pfizer lifer who has worked at the company since 1978 and who has held leadership positions all over the world; this experience will be important as Pfizer, in the wake of U.S. patent expirations, will get more and more of its sales from outside the U.S. He has presided over a restructuring of Pfizer’s business, but has seemed more like a tactician, adjusting course and getting things done, than the type of man who is likely to set a bold new direction.
With this announcement, both Pfizer and longtime rival Merck, which just named its former chief counsel and then marketing head Kenneth Frazier to the chief executive job, are under new leadership. Unfortunately, the new leaders still have to deal with all the same old problems: too few new drugs, too many old ones vanishing, and an environment where it is increasingly difficult to get new products to sell.
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