Chairman Bill Young: Next Biogen Idec CEO May Be a Scientist
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the headhunting firm of Spencer Stuart to help identify candidates, and the goal is to hire the new CEO within 90 to 120 days, Young says. Mullen, while still currently a member of the board, isn’t involved in picking the successor, although he’s still working at the company to aid with the leadership transition.
While the CEO search is going on, Biogen has decided to wait a while to seek out a new head of research and development to replace Cecil Pickett, who retired last year. That position will stay vacant until after the CEO is hired, so the new leader can be sure to have an R&D chief that he or she is comfortable with, Young says.
Of course, I asked Young about how the board is working together now that Icahn’s two directors have had a few months on the job. He didn’t say much, other than a lot of predictable things about how everybody works together just fine. But when I asked if the board is taking on any new strategic shifts because of the input from the new directors, he offered an interesting answer that certainly made it sound like the board isn’t just trying to defend the status quo. Young was named to the Idec Pharmaceuticals board in 1996, when he was the chief operating officer of Genentech, and he has stuck around since San Diego’s Idec merged with Cambridge’s Biogen in 2003.
“If you look at the board, most of it is new. There are only three directors that have any length of service after this coming annual meeting when Jim [Mullen] and Bruce Ross step down,” Young says. “The only three with any length of service are Lynn Schenk, Bob Pangia, and me, who were all Idec directors. Everyone else has come on the last couple of years. The board is largely new.”
Exactly how receptive these new faces are to change, and what kind of change, will be one of the big storylines at Biogen Idec in the first half of 2010. While Young emphasized the company wants scientific thinking in a CEO, he also made clear he didn’t think anything was broken. When asked about the kind of R&D chief he wants, Young went out of his way to compliment Pickett, for doing “a really good job of rejuvenating things” in the R&D pipeline.
So who ends up getting the CEO job will say a lot about the board’s vision for the company. And Icahn’s reaction will show pretty quickly whether it’s a unified one.