10 years after selling Bausch + Lomb, controversial dealmaker Brent Saunders is back as CEO

Ten years after last serving as CEO at Bausch + Lomb, Brent Saunders is back at his former post. But this is not your typical meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss story.

On Wednesday, when Bausch + Lomb revealed that Saunders would succeed Joe Papa as the company’s CEO effective on March 6, it reunited a company and a wheeling-dealing executive who has been through a lot over the last decade.

The roller coaster ride began in 2013 when Saunders orchestrated Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ $8.7 billion buyout of Bausch + Lomb, ending his three-year tenure as CEO. With that, Saunders took over as CEO at Forest Laboratories, where it took him five months to execute its sale to Actavis for $25 billion and his takeover as its CEO. Then, six months later, in November of 2014, Saunders pulled off a $70 billion acquisition of Allergan and became its CEO.

In 2015, Saunders became the subject of a Forbes cover story titled “Wall Street’s Drug Dealer: Five Years, Three Companies, $100 billion in M&A—and Zero Inventions. The 44-year-old Future of Medicine.”

All the while, Saunders pointed to his boyish, wrinkle-free face touting Allergan’s most high-profile product Botox.

Meanwhile, Saunders was attempting to pull off his biggest coup—a sale of the company to Pfizer where he would become its CEO. But the deal fell through in 2016. Three years later, Saunders settled for a sale of Allergan to AbbVie for $63 billion.

During his Allergan tenure, the company launched 15 products and saw 9.4% revenue growth. But in his final few years, investors had grown impatient with the company’s depressed performance and pressured for a split between Saunders’ CEO and chairman roles.

Saunders also drew fire for his audacious attempt to protect patents for eye drug Restasis by selling them to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, which then licensed their use back to the company.

Since 2021, Saunders has taken on a lower profile as chairman of the California-based skin and healthcare specialist Beauty Health, a role in which he will continue to serve.

As Saunders was hitting his stride as a dealmaker, Valeant too was on an acquisition binge, racking up tens of billions of dollars in debt before its business model—including growth by M&A, huge price hikes and a murky specialty pharmacy relationship—came under fire. Congressional hearings, plus federal and state probes, followed. 

From the ashes in 2018, Valeant rebranded as Bausch Health Companies. Bausch + Lomb now is in the process of being spun out of its parent.

It already is a significant player in a growing market, as it sells contact lenses, prescription drugs, surgery devices and generic eye products. The company reported revenue of $2.8 billion over the first three quarters of last year. The Ontario-based company has more than 12,000 employees.

“[Saunders’] strong inner-working knowledge of the company and unparalleled executive leadership experience in health are make him the ideal person to lead Bausch + Lomb at this pivotal time in our 170-year history,” Thomas Ross, Bausch + Lomb’s chairman, said in a release.

Papa, who announced his departure as CEO and director last July, has been in charge since 2016. 

Saunders also will take over as Bausch + Lomb's board chairman, the company said.

“I am honored to once again lead Bausch + Lomb during this exciting time as a new publicly traded company,” Saunders said in the release, referring to Bausch’s $630 million raise in an IPO last year.