Pfizer's Read to retire at year's end, handing chairmanship to CEO Bourla

Pfizer
Pfizer's Ian Read (left) has served as executive chairman since stepping down as CEO earlier this year. Now, he's exiting that role, and CEO Albert Bourla (right) will take the chairmanship. (Pfizer)

As CEO, Pfizer's Ian Read steered the company for nine years. He's spent 41 years at the company, all told. But now, he's saying goodbye.

Read, who stepped out of the CEO role in January, plans to give up the executive chairman's job and retire at year's end, the drugmaker said Friday. CEO Albert Bourla will take on the chairman's role when Read leaves.

Read joined Pfizer in 1978, became CEO in 2010 and joined the board the following year. Last year, the drugmaker announced he'd move from chairman and CEO to executive chairman, with former COO Bourla stepping up to the top C-suite job.

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The outgoing chairman said in a statement he believes "Pfizer’s best days are yet to come—which is an exciting thought for patients and their families across the globe.”

As Read assumed the CEO job, Pfizer was still integrating Wyeth following a $68 billion buyout in 2009. After becoming CEO in 2010, Read faced the “biggest loss of exclusivity challenge in the history of our industry,” Bourla said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in January.

RELATED: CEO Ian Read hands the reins of a slimmer, sleeker Pfizer to COO Albert Bourla

Pfizer’s 2010 revenues were $62 billion in 2010 and sank to $50 billion in 2015, Bourla said, and productivity was lagging in those early years. While Read had to deal with those factors, Bourla said he took over with a “very different situation.”

The drugmaker this year lost exclusivity for blockbuster nerve pain med Lyrica, and now has a “virtual LOE-free period until 2026” that will allow it to grow.

“Things are changing in Pfizer now but not because the leader is changing,” Bourla said at the conference. “In fact, things are changing because the previous leader was very successful.”

Read also dealt with M&A setbacks during his time as CEO. He twice tried to engineer massive takeovers that would’ve reshaped the industry—first for AstraZeneca and then for Allergan—but on both occasions Pfizer pulled out of the proposed transactions. He did strike midsized deals, though, scooping up Medivation for $14 billion and Anacor for $5 billion in 2016. While Read was chairman, the company bought Array BioPharma for $11 billion and struck a deal to offload generics in a Mylan tie-up. 

While Read was CEO, Pfizer scored 30 FDA approvals and returned $120 billion to shareholders, the company said when he stepped down. Dividends grew, and Read left the company with a “strong pipeline” with the potential for up to 30 approvals through 2022.

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