Prepping for $25B merger, Actavis taps Forest CEO Saunders to lead combined company

Forest Laboratories CEO Brent Saunders

When Actavis CEO Paul Bisaro announced his big buyout of Forest Laboratories ($FRX), he sketched a picture of a brand-plus-generic powerhouse with lower costs and bigger revenue prospects. Now, it will be Forest CEO Brent Saunders who colors in those lines as chief executive of the merged company.

That doesn't mean Bisaro won't have significant power; he'll be executive chairman, a newly created post. Saunders, who joined Forest in September after selling Bausch & Lomb to Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX), is set to take the day-to-day reins as CEO and president. Actavis ($ACT) and Forest vets alike will fill out the executive team.

That team will have a big job ahead in integrating Actavis and Forest, one a generics leader, the other a mid-sized brand player with lots of generic competition and several new meds to pump up to size. The $25 billion merger involves operations in multiple countries, some of them recently acquired as part of Actavis' 2013 buyout of the U.K. drugmaker Warner Chilcott. Cost-cutting comes with the territory, too, with Bisaro on record with a $500 million target by 2016.

The top appointments are part of an overall rejig of top Actavis management, with several newly created posts, including chief operating officer. The shuffle also includes farewells to a few top execs on both sides of the deal.

Actavis announced the leadership team Wednesday morning, "to ensure that we seamlessly operate as one global company on Day 1," Bisaro said in a statement. "These appointments reflect the increased size and complexity of the combined business, and the exceptional and complementary expertise of the Actavis and Forest management teams."

Robert Stewart, who previously served as Actavis operations chief, will take the new COO position. On the commercial side of the business, Forest EVP Bill Meury will become EVP of the new company's North American brands business. David Buchen, Actavis' top legal mind, will lead the commercial organization on the generics side in North America, and will spearhead the international business.

Among the departures is Sigurdur Olafsson, who's been president of Actavis Pharma. And then there's Howard Solomon, who founded Forest Laboratories and served for decades as its CEO; he stepped up to chairman last year to usher Saunders into that seat.

- read the press release from Actavis

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