PFIZER’S SUCCESS AT SUCCESSION

I’m going to be doing a mini-series of posts on leadership and I’ll start with Pfizer – a company that has done well at vetting and choosing its upcoming CEO.  Ian Read, who has been CEO for 8 years, has carefully selected and groomed his successor, Albert Bourla, in order to avoid the company’s missteps of the past at carrying out succession.

Both Read and Bourla are long-time employees of the company – Bourla for 25 years.  The Bourla succession is intended to ensure a continuance of the policies of Read that have made the company successful in recent years.  Under Read’s leadership, the company has weathered the abyss that has been the result of losing $23 billion in sales as a result of patents expiring for drugs like Lipitor and other big-selling products.  Generic rivals caused sales of the more expensive drugs to drop.  Under Bourla’s tenure, there will be one more big patent loss, at the end of the year, on the drug Lyrica, a $3.5 billion sales generator.  The company is poised to increase revenue, however, if its pipeline of 15 new drugs, in late stages of development, realize their promise.  Each of these is expected to generate $1 billion in sales.  CEO Read steadied the company amidst the patent losses through a combination of deal making, expansion in emerging markets like China, and cost cutting.  He has also taken aggressive steps to give employees more say in decision making and improve the productivity of the company’s laboratories.  Bourla well-understands his upcoming role, saying: “We have a pipeline that is the best we’ve ever had.  It’s my responsibility to make sure we maximize the opportunity the company has.”  That’s the point of successful succession – to have the successor take the helm and continue to run the company well.  The successor doesn’t have to be an insider (although that’s sometimes easier), but sufficient time has to be devoted to preparing the individual to gain an in-depth understanding of what will be needed during his tenure.  Succession fails when the individual is thrown into the role without proper preparation.  Read’s leadership has ensured that that will not happen.

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