Pfizer ($PFE) board criticized as another exec departs

More executive intrigue at Pfizer ($PFE)--the company's board is coming under fire from investors and analysts in the wake of CEO Jeff Kindler's (photo) abrupt exit. The consensus among critics? Pfizer execs aren't the only ones on the hook for the company's problems--or for its not-so-buoyant stock. One hedge-fund investor went so far as to call the current directors "value destroyers."

MSMB Capital Management chief Martin Shkreli has been lobbying big Pfizer investors to press the board to appoint a "strong outsider" when it chooses a new non-executive chairman in two weeks, "to energize and change the culture of irresponsibility that permeates Pfizer," as he told the Financial Times. Sanford Bernstein's Tim Anderson concurred on the "irresponsibility" angle, saying, "When does the board take accountability? It's been in place for many years and is partly responsible."

Meanwhile, Pfizer's emerging markets chief Jean-Michel Halfon is also stepping down. His departure comes at a time when the company is racing with the rest of Big Pharma to grab its share of the fast growth expected in those countries. Taking his place will be David Simmons, who'll leave the company's established products business. That unit includes generics and branded generics--another key prong in Pfizer's patent-cliff-fighting strategy.

Halfon has been pushing deeper into the developing world, helping boost emerging-markets sales to $2.07 billion in the third quarter, up 36 percent year-over-year. Part of that increase comes from the Wyeth acquisition, but at least one analyst praised Halfon's performance in helping Pfizer play catch-up in some big emerging markets. "They know they're behind in China, and want to do more; they know they want to do more in Brazil," CLSA analyst David Maris told Bloomberg. "Jean-Michel Halfon has done a great job building out, especially China."

That's not to say that Simmons won't do a fine job himself; he has experience working for Pfizer in international markets, and he's been quite active in pumping up the established products division. But the executive switcheroo means a learning curve for him in emerging markets and for his replacement in established products at a time when the top reaches of the company are roiled by change. We'll have to see whether an outsider gets the chairman role and adds more to the change quotient.

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