Pfizer ($PFE) elevates longtime director to chairman's office

Pfizer's ($PFE) board decided not to bring in an outsider as non-executive chairman. Instead, the company tapped George Lorch, a longtime Pfizer director and ex-chairman and CEO of the Armstrong flooring products company. Lorch will share the helm at Pfizer with its newly appointed CEO, Ian Read.

In choosing Lorch, the directors fulfilled the expectations of some analysts, but defied other vocal investors and industry observers who were agitating for new blood. Credit Suisse analyst Catherine Arnold had even identified some current board members who could bring new perspective to Pfizer management (none of them was Lorch). "Lorch is as good as anyone else on the board," Barclays Capital's Charles Butler told Reuters. "But Pfizer has to change its culture to produce new drugs and that will depend on who is hired in R&D."

Of course, in appointing Read, Pfizer chose a veteran insider as well. In a statement, Lorch called Read "the right person" to lead Pfizer forward--through a period that's sure to be tumultuous, given the impending expiration of mega-blockbuster Lipitor's patent--and said he was looking forward to working together.

Speaking of tumult, the company also announced another executive departure. In the wake of CEO Jeffrey Kindler's abrupt retirement last week, and the exit of two lower-level executives in the emerging markets area, Pfizer is now losing its manufacturing chief, Natale Ricciardi. He says his departure isn't related to Read's ascension; in fact, he calls Read a friend and maintains that he's been planning to leave for some time. He'll step down early next year.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, additional executive changes could be in the offing as Read assembles his own top management team. Stay tuned.

- read the New York Times story
- get the article in the WSJ
- see the Reuters coverage