In a last-minute change, Novartis is officially moving Alcon's headquarters from Fort Worth, Texas, to its own home country to cement the eyecare unit's Swiss presence ahead of its planned spinoff in the first half of 2019.
Novartis made the intention clear in its spinoff announcement in June. Now, the exact location for the new HQ has been set in Geneva, a place that “will help further increase Alcon’s global scale and reach to better serve our customers,” said Alcon chief David Endicott in a statement Tuesday.
Alcon already has a long-standing presence in Switzerland, and after the move, the company will have up to 700 employees across sites in the country. The new HQ will sit alongside Alcon’s current Europe, Middle East and Africa regional office and close to the Geneva airport.
Fort Worth, Texas, where Alcon has been based since its foundation in 1945, will be kept as “a major operational, commercial and innovation hub.” But Switzerland, known for its favorable tax environment, has a “progressive business climate and innovation-friendly policies” that looks more attractive to Alcon, according to Endicott.
Besides Texas and Geneva, Alcon also has R&D sites in Schaffhausen, Switzerland; in Germany; and in Georgia and California. Once the planned castoff is complete, Alcon will have more than 20,000 employees in its own right, Novartis has said.
Novartis bought Alcon in 2011 for more than $50 billion, but the business has been struggling in recent years, triggering calls for a sale or spinoff. The Swiss drugmaker announced the spinoff plans in June—right after the division showed some improved results in the first quarter. In 2016, Novartis started separating Alcon’s eye drug portfolio from the surgical and medical devices business, which will form the new standalone Alcon.
Jettisoning Alcon is part of Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan’s strategy to focus the company on innovative prescription drugs. For the same reason, Novartis has agreed to sell some struggling Sandoz U.S. generics and its dermatology franchise to India’s Aurobindo Pharma in a deal that could be worth $1 billion; unloaded its stake in a consumer health joint venture to its partner, GlaxoSmithKline, for $13 billion; and acquired gene therapy specialist AveXis for $8.7 billion.
For Alcon, executives painted the incorporation as “key to strengthening our leadership in the large, attractive and growing global eye care devices market,” said then-CEO and now chairman-designate Mike Ball. In the first half of 2018, Alcon posted net sales of $3.6 billion, up 6% at constant exchange rates.
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to show that the 700 employees across Switzerland are not necessarily new hires but mainly from Alcon's existing presence in the country, and that the site in Rotkreuz, Switzerland, is not for R&D.