Forest Laboratories ($FRX) has snapped up former Bausch + Lomb CEO Brent Saunders to replace Howard Solomon, who is retiring. Shunted aside when Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) bought B+L, Saunders was something of a natural choice for Forest because he has served on the company's board since 2011. He'll step into his new role Oct. 1.
Turns out, Valeant's takeover at B+L was well-timed for Forest, independent director Kenneth Goodman said in a statement. "We have long thought Brent would be an ideal CEO to succeed Howard when the time came," said Goodman, part of the team tasked with finding Solomon's replacement. After a "rigorous" search, "during which we evaluated a number of excellent candidates," Goodman said, "this belief became crystal clear. We are delighted that ... Brent became available at just the right time."
Locking in Solomon's replacement could remove one source of debate with Forest's critics, namely activist investor Carl Icahn, who has staged two proxy fights with the company. One of his key complaints has been Forest's lack of a succession plan.
Saunders actually beat one of Icahn's nominees for election to the board in 2011 during the first round of Icahn vs. Forest Labs. Last year's proxy fight turned ugly and bitter quickly, with Icahn accusing Solomon of lining up his son David to take his place. And Icahn accused Forest's incumbent board of standing by while top executives, including Solomon, bungled preparations for Lexapro's patent expiration.
One of Icahn's nominees made it onto the board then, and in June of this year, Forest agreed to add another of Icahn's hand-picked candidates to avoid a third proxy fight. That agreement, which put Icahn crony Vincent Intrieri in a director's seat, includes standstill restrictions that limit Icahn's involvement at Forest so long as Intieri serves on the board.
Today's announcement from Forest took pains to emphasize that the company looked long and hard for Solomon's successor, perhaps to head off suggestions of cronyism. Even Saunders' press-release quote addresses the executive search: "I know that the board's search committee has been very deliberate and thoughtful in its process to find a leader to succeed Howard Solomon," he said, adding, "I look forward to getting started immediately."
- read the release from Forest
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