AbbVie CEO telegraphs retirement and prepares to pass baton to long-time deputy Robert Michael

On AbbVie’s latest earnings call, analysts were curious whether long-time CEO Richard Gonzalez was weighing a succession plan now that Humira’s loss of U.S. exclusivity has passed. While the top executive was tight-lipped at the time, it turns out that line of questioning was prophetic.

Robert Michael, AbbVie’s current president and chief operating officer, has been tapped by the company’s board of directors to take over Gonzalez’s CEO post on July 1, AbbVie said Tuesday. Gonzalez, for his part, is retiring from the role after serving as CEO for 11 years to become executive chairman of AbbVie’s board.

Gonzalez has served as AbbVie’s CEO since the company's inception in 2013. Prior to AbbVie’s genesis, Gonzalez served at Abbott for 30 years.

AbbVie’s leadership has been plotting a “seamless” CEO transition for “some time,” the outgoing chief executive said in a statement, adding that “[n]ow is the opportune time to hand the CEO role over.”

In justifying the timing, Gonzalez cited the strength of AbbVie’s current business, as well as its rich pipeline and “strong position for the long term."

That messaging tracks with prior executive comments around Gonzalez’s potential retirement, which industry watchers had expected to occur sometime after AbbVie navigated its Humira cliff and the subsequent onslaught of biosimilar competition.

“When we believe that we’re comfortable, we’ve navigated the [loss of exclusivity] and the rest of the business is performing at a higher level—that’s the point where we want to make the transition,” Gonzalez said of his succession plans on a call with analysts earlier this month.

Last spring, meanwhile, Gonzalez said his company needed to “completely get through the transition for Humira biosimilars here in the U.S.” before AbbVie would be able to chart a “successful and smooth” transition.

Still, despite the timing of Gonzalez’s retirement announcement, AbbVie isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to Humira erosion.

During the final quarter of 2023, sales of Humira plummeted nearly 41% to $3.3 billion globally. The rate of erosion apparently gained steam in the fourth quarter and outpaced the med’s full-year sales decline of roughly 32%.

AbbVie’s plan is to weather the remaining biosimilar assault in 2024 before returning to growth in 2025 and beyond, incoming CEO Michael said on the company’s full-year 2023 earnings call.

Michael—whose resume runs the gamut from pharmaceuticals, aesthetics and diagnostics to diabetes care and nutrition—started his career at Abbott. When AbbVie split from Abbott in 2013, Michael established and led the company’s first financial planning organization as vice president, AbbVie financial planning and analysis.

Since then, Michael has gradually climbed the leadership ladder at the company, taking over roles including controller for commercial operations, treasurer and corporate controller.

More recently, Michael became AbbVie’s chief financial officer in 2018 before picking up the mantle of chief operating officer in 2023.