Vertex fires COO Ian Smith for unspecified code of conduct violation

Vertex Pharma
Vertex said Wednesday that it had dismissed COO and interim CFO Ian Smith. (Vertex)

Vertex executive Ian Smith had only recently stepped into the company’s interim CFO role, which he held alongside his COO title. But now, Smith is leaving both positions following his behavior in violation of the company’s code of conduct.

The Boston biotech said Wednesday that it had fired Smith, effective immediately, for “personal behavior that violated Vertex’s code of conduct and values.” Vertex didn’t provide details on the particular offense, but the company did stress that Smith’s exit was “unrelated to the company’s financial and business performance.”

Vertex decided to show Smith the door after a “prompt and comprehensive” probe conducted with help from law firm WilmerHale, it said. Vertex’ code of conduct (PDF) provides guidelines on a number of topics, including bribery, participation in politics, harassment and more.

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“At Vertex, we are deeply committed to our culture of diversity, inclusion and respect, and we insist that all of our employees, regardless of their seniority, live our values and adhere to our code of conduct,” Vertex CEO Jeffrey Leiden, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement.

As Leerink Partners analyst Geoffrey Porges wrote in a note to clients, Leiden said the decision was “clear to the board” and “not influenced or affected by the current political climate.”

“Specifically he stated that the decision they reached would have been the same five years ago,” Porges wrote.

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Still, Porges expects Smith’s departure to rattle investors, to whom he was “well known.” Smith “had been a fixture at the company for more than 17 years, and in our view had in many ways been the architect of the company’s financial performance and success. Investors will be alarmed by this surprising news,” Porges said, though he added that he didn’t expect the move to impact future financial results.

Meanwhile, Vertex SVP, corporate controller and chief accounting officer Paul Silva will move into the interim CFO position while the company searches for a permanent replacement. Smith took the reins from former CFO Tom Graney, who left in December to join biotech Generation Bio.