Chairman Bill Young: Next Biogen Idec CEO May Be a Scientist
The future leader of Biogen Idec might be as familiar with a petri dish as he or she is with a spreadsheet.
That’s according to Bill Young, who took over as Biogen’s chairman of the board on January 1. Young is on the board committee that’s searching to replace CEO Jim Mullen, who announced last month that he’s stepping down after a decade at the helm of the Cambridge, MA-based biotech giant (NASDAQ: BIIB). I met with Young last week while he was visiting a startup in Seattle.
“We have a whole list of criteria, but the most important of which is that we find someone who has managed and understands the role of science in a biotech company, and how that needs to be bridged to the commercial side of things,” Young says. “That may mean it’s a scientist or someone who understands how that fits into what biotech companies are designed to do, which is develop products.”
The job is one of the higher-profile gigs in biotechnology. Biogen, which also has operations in San Diego, is the world’s largest maker of multiple sclerosis drugs. It generated $4.4 billion in revenue last year, and came close to a $1 billion annual profit in 2009. Biogen had 4,750 employees worldwide heading into this year, and a stock market valuation of $15 billion that ranks it behind only Amgen, Gilead Sciences, and Celgene among biopharmaceutical industry peers.
Yet Biogen has its share of headaches. Uncertainty about the side effects of its fastest-growing multiple sclerosis drug, natalizumab (Tysabri), are a constant worry. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn ripped the company last year for poor R&D performance that he said added up to “failed leadership.” Icahn persuaded shareholders to give his slate two board seats, and he already has given notice that he wants three more in this year’s board election. This fight has gotten personal at times, like when Icahn reminded shareholders that Mullen was paid $60.8 million in total compensation, combining salary, bonus, and stock options over a five-year period, while Biogen stock declined from $66.61 to $47.63.
Mullen sounded battle-weary last month when he spoke at a Goldman Sachs conference about this exit: “If you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, you can do one of two or three things, right? Sports cars I’m too big for. Mistresses are not approved at home. Maybe a career change is what’s in order. I decided to go with Number 3. I think it’s a good time, for, you know, a transition.”
While Mullen looks for something else to do, he doesn’t appear to have groomed an obvious internal successor. It’s also worth noting that Mullen has a business background, not a scientific one.
“There may be some internal candidates we consider, but they are largely external,” Young says. “We have a lot of people interested. As you can imagine, there are not many large, cash flow positive biotech companies around these days. Many have been acquired or haven’t reached that stage yet. Biogen Idec is certainly one of those. There’s a lot to work with there. Good culture, strong science. Jim [Mullen] has been there 20 years, done a good job, but I think he was ready to try something else. That’s OK and appropriate. People will make that decision from time to time.”
The search committee has hired … Next Page »