Execs talk deals, diversification and downturn

Since 2006, there's been unprecedented turnover in Big Pharma's executive suites, and the newbies are still settling into their posts. Want to know more about how this new blood is changing the industry's strategies? Check out BusinessWeek's interviews with the top dogs at Pfizer (Jeffrey Kindler), Eli Lilly (John Lechleiter), Roche (Severin Schwan) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (Jim Cornelius). Here's a sampling of what their eminences had to say.

On consolidation, Roche's Schwan (photo) decried megamergers for overlap that "destroys value," but praised complementary deals such as his own offer for partner Genentech. Lechleiter (photo) was also all about the complementary, saying that ImClone Systems, which Lilly recently agreed to buy, fits right into his company's strategies. And Kindler (photo)--brace yourself--said "we never say never" on a megadeal. But that said, he added that he'll still evaluate deals by his same old criteria: fit and price.

As for diversification, both Cornelius (photo) and Lechleiter said they've been going in the opposite direction, focusing more on their core drugs biz. Bristol still hopes to spin off its nutritionals unit in the first quarter of next year, provided the credit markets cooperate. And for Lilly, diversification means building up its animal health division and "being a biotech" on the human side.

And then there's the economy. Kindler acknowledges that the downturn will cause drugmakers pain, but it's too early to tell just how much: "The market hasn't settled yet." People will still need their meds even in hard times, though, so pharma should be somewhat insulated from the crisis. Cornelius said Bristol's in a good place financially, with a stash of cash and strong cash flow. But its suffering stock price is a "disappointment," he said. "It brings tears to my eyes."

For more on R&D productivity and improving pharma's public image, see the full BW feature.

- see the BW article