Next to-do on Merck chief's list: Find new CEO

Now that Merck CEO Dick Clark (photo) has pulled off the third-biggest pharma merger of the year, he has another big job ahead: Getting ready for retirement. And no, that's not a joke. In March 2011, Clark will be 65 years old, a.k.a. mandatory retirement age at his company. So he has to come up with a succession plan by mid-2010, Reuters reports, to satisfy investors.

"If the CEO succession planning does not go the way I think it's going to go, then my time as CEO will be a failure," Clark said at the Reuters Health Summit. "That's how strong I feel about getting this right," Reuters quotes him as saying.

Let's look at the new Merck's org chart for some clues. Back when the company unveiled its new, post-merger management structure, some pharma-watchers dubbed Ken Frazier as Merck's heir apparent. As you know, Frazier won kudos as general counsel for his legal strategy on Vioxx, the withdrawn drug that drew many thousands of lawsuits. When Clark named him global drugs chief, that seemed to be a sign that he's on the short list of CEO candidates.

But Reuters suggests that CFO Peter Kellogg is also a contender. Will we have a horse race for the CEO suite, a la GlaxoSmithKline? Given Merck's preference for keeping internal stuff internal, we're betting against that prospect. And given the need for due diligence, we expect Clark and the Merck board to at least pretend to consider external candidates.

What's your prediction? Will Merck go outside the company--or even the industry--for a new leader? Or will it choose from its own ranks, and if so, who's first in line for the job? Let us know. We'll have to wait at least six months to find out, so we have plenty of time to speculate.

- read the Reuters coverage

ALSO: BNet Pharma reports on the legal machinations Merck went through to achieve its "reverse merger" with Schering-Plough. Report