Actavis CEO: Pharma believer and Botox user, yes. The Borg? No

Actavis CEO Brent Saunders

Actavis ($ACT) CEO Brent Saunders is committed to his company, its employees and the brands it sells--at least, that's the image he projected when he received Botox, the lead product from recent purchase Allergan ($AGN), on a stage in front of 1,000 of the California drugmaker's sales reps.

"I don't have any crow's feet anymore, and I don't have any wrinkle lines above my nose. Now I can say I'm not just the CEO, I'm a user," he said, as quoted by Forbes.

Indeed, he's done his best to ingratiate himself, playing the anti-Valeant ($VRX)--Allergan's hostile suitor that had pledged to slash up its treasured drug development ops--by pledging to keep $1.7 billion, or 7% of sales, devoted to R&D. That doesn't mean Saunders is high on risky drug-discovery spending; he'd like to focus on snapping up products that are close to market and sinking money into studying new uses for marketed meds.

When it comes to how to make all that happen, he's open to suggestion. "We're not the Borg; we don't go in and assimilate companies," he told the publication. "We actually try to learn from their culture. We learn from their processes, and we certainly try to learn from their talent. We want to get better." And as a result, the Allergan integration is so far moving along "probably … the best of any I've been involved in," he said at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. For the journeyman chief, that's saying something.

But does it mean another sale isn't on the horizon? Not necessarily. For one, there's Saunders' track record. Just 24 months into his first CEO stint, as helmsman at Bausch + Lomb, he sold off the company to none other than Valeant in what he told Forbes was an "emotional" transaction. "I love the brand. I love the people. I love the customers. It almost becomes like your second family," he said. But it was "the absolute right decision."

Shortly thereafter, just three months after taking command at Forest Labs, he was laying the groundwork with then-Actavis skipper Paul Bisaro for a sale of that company, too. A couple months after that, they'd inked a pact. And less than a year after that, Saunders snapped up Allergan for $66 billion, scoring the industry's largest acquisition in 6 years, according to Forbes.

And then there's the deal interest. Saunders has been working to brand Actavis-Allergan as a pioneer in the drug industry--a "growth pharma" that shares Big Pharma's size but not its sluggish revenue expansion. But that doesn't mean Big Pharma itself isn't eager to get in on the 8% revenue growth per year he's promised.

With a lagging pipeline, a public desire to move its tax base abroad and a recently failed $100 billion bid for AstraZeneca ($AZN) in the rearview mirror, Pfizer ($PFE) is high on analysts' list of likely suitors for Dublin-based Actavis. Saunders' company's generic roots would also bolster a Pfizer unit that could eventually be ripe for a spinoff, a prospect the breakup specialist could get on board with.

And while Saunders has said he thinks the prospects of a Pfizer deal are "negligible," he hasn't exactly put the kibosh on the idea that he's got more M&A moves up his sleeve. "Our stock's for sale every day on the New York Stock Exchange," he told Forbes. "We're a very shareholder-friendly management and board."

- see the Forbes story

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