Pharma's Top 5 Golden Handshakes of the Last 5 Years

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By Damian Garde

It's an all-too-familiar frustration for pharma shareholders. On the heels of declining revenues and mismanagement, a CEO is forced out, fired or finally convinced to retire. And then comes the golden handshake, millions in cash, benefits and options paid out over years.

Below are pharma's 5 biggest such deals in the past 5 years, headlined by two ex-CEOs who did quite well upon their exits. Genzyme's Henri Termeer, for instance, presided over manufacturing woes and a proxy fight led by the inimitable Carl Icahn, all of which led up to a $20 billion acquisition by Sanofi ($SNY) and a hefty payout for Termeer.

Same goes for now-departed Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) chief William Weldon. Facing a shareholder suit, production snafus and the Risperdal fallout, Weldon ceded the reins to Alex Gorsky. Leaving a disorganized OTC unit and multi-billion-dollar settlements in his wake, Weldon walked away with a princely pension for his 31 years with the company.

The remaining three pulled in retirement packages that, while smaller, were still galling to some investors. David Brennan, the recently deposed head of beleaguered AstraZeneca ($AZN), presided over a 38% drop in profits before leaving with guaranteed millions. Bernard Poussot, the Wyeth chief cast aside when his company merged with Pfizer ($PFE), cashed out after just one year as chief. Less fortunate were the thousands of Wyeth and Pfizer employees laid off after the deal, of course. A similar story goes for ex-Schering-Plough CEO Fred Hassan, who, after the company was acquired by Merck ($MRK), got a healthy change-in-control bonus tacked on to his pension.

And those are just the biggest of the past 5 years. Omitted are those who fell just short and a few who just missed the cutoff (Pfizer's Hank McKinnell, who retired in 2006, is currently collecting on his $200 million retirement). And, with many heavy hitters in the pharma world facing restructuring and possible acquisitions, it's possible this list will look quite different in even a year's time.

Fred Hassan--Schering-Plough
Golden handshake: $49.7 million
Years with company: 6
Retirement date: 2009

Bernard Poussot--Wyeth
Golden handshake: $53 million
Years with company: 8
Retirement date: 2009


David Brennan--AstraZeneca
Golden handshake: $65 million
Years with company: 11
Retirement date: 2012

William Weldon--Johnson & Johnson
Golden handshake: $143 million
Years with company: 31
Retirement date: 2012

Henri Termeer--Genzyme
Golden handshake: $158 million
Years with company: 28
Retirement date: 2011