In an expected transition, Pfizer’s chief operating officer, Albert Bourla, will take over as CEO from Ian Read when Read steps down at the end of the year.
Read came to Pfizer in 1978 after getting his accounting degree and never left. When he became CEO in late 2010, his immediate challenge was to help the pharma behemoth navigate a period of patent losses on its drugs, including its top seller, the cholesterol-lowering pill Lipitor. During his first year at the helm, Read made deep cuts to the company’s research organization. He later spun out its animal health business into a standalone unit, Zoetis.
A longtime critic of the U.S. corporate tax system, Read made two failed bids for smaller drug companies that would have allowed Pfizer to shift its headquarters to countries with more favorable tax laws. The first attempt at a so-called reverse merger was in 2014, for Britain’s AstraZeneca, which rebuffed Pfizer’s $119 billion offer. A year later, Pfizer unveiled a $160 billion deal to acquire Allergan, which is based in Ireland, but backed out when the U.S. government made it more difficult to realize tax savings from the deal.
Bourla also has decades of experience at Pfizer: He started in 1993 as a technical director in Greece, and ascended through the ranks to his current position as COO. Like Read in 2010, Bourla will be contending with looming generic competition on a critical product—this time, the pain treatment Lyrica. He officially takes the reins on Jan. 1, 2019.