Photo image of Abbott Inc. corporate building office sign
… A Successful 20 Year Growth Path at Abbott …


The CEO with a 20-year track record of clinical and commercial success is stepping down

John G. Baresky

Key Points about the career and success of Miles White:

Miles White, Abbott CEO for over 20 years, will remain Chairman of the Board as he hands the reins to Robert Ford, Abbott COO and president

Undergraduate and graduate alum of Stanford University, Miles launched his career at McKinsey and then moved on to Abbott in 1984

The acquisition of Knoll by Abbott resulted in the commercialization of one of the most profitable pharmaceutical products of all time, Humira

White’s leadership forged the success of Abbott and Abbvie by acquisitions, spinoffs and other strategic ventures that reshaped pharmaceutical, medical device, and diagnostic global healthcare sectors

A strategic succession of executive leadership at Abbott is underway

After 21 years as CEO, legendary pharmaceutical, diagnostic and medical device merger & acquisition strategist and corporate leader Miles White are handing over the CEO reins of Abbott to his planned successor, Robert Ford, Chief Operating Officer and President of Abbott, Inc.

Miles White: Stanford University and McKinsey alum

Miles White, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, launched his brilliantly dynamic career beginning with his graduation from Stanford University ( Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, 1978 and MBA, 1980 ) then signing on at the New York-based blue-chip management consulting firm McKinsey.

Abbott Laboratories, Inc. hires Miles White

White joined North Chicago, Illinois based Abbott Laboratories in 1984 and rapidly ascended through the ranks to the senior leadership position of CEO and chairman of the board by 1999.

Once at the helm of Abbott, Miles moved forward with a series of strategic deals that re-shaped the global pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostic healthcare industry sectors…

Abbott acquires Knoll Pharmaceutical from BASF

In 2000 Abbott bought Knoll Pharmaceutical from German chemical and industrial conglomerate BASF ( OTCMKTS: BASFY ) for $6.9 billion. This deal was instrumental in Abbott and eventually spinoff AbbVie’s growth as it included the now multi-billion dollar blockbuster drug Humira (adalimumab — a TNF blocker). Humira’s worldwide annual sales have been as high as $20 billion. White outmaneuvered front-runner Eli Lilly ( NYSE: LLY ), as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb ( NYSE: BMY ) and Sanofi-Synthelabo ( NASDAQ: SNY ) who were also considered front-runners seeking to acquire Knoll.

It is something to contemplate how the growth paths of these 3 companies would have evolved had they acquired Knoll or how Abbott would have progressed without acquiring Knoll. A further consideration is how BASF may have fared had they not sold Knoll. Humira’s success was never guaranteed, undoubtedly Abbott’s and White’s pharmaceutical business savvy which was carried forth and enriched by AbbVie’s strategic clinical and commercial capabilities enabled Humira to hit the ground running following its launch with effective market access strategy, a succession of additional FDA approved indications and competitive sales drive.

Abbott spinoff Hospira acquired by Pfizer

Moving on from the Knoll deal, White formed up Abbott’s older hospital products unit into a separate commercial organization that became the Abbott spinoff company known as Hospira ( NYSE: HSP ) in 2004. When it was introduced as a public company, Hospira had 14 manufacturing plants and sales of approximately $2.5 billion. Hospira was acquired about 11 years later for $17 billion by Pfizer ( NYSE: PFE ) in 2015.

Abbott becomes a global leader in diabetes care based on its MediSense diagnostic and blood glucose monitoring acquisition

A second significant corporate maneuver was launched by White in 2004 as Abbott acquired diagnostics and blood glucose monitoring company MediSense for $1.2 billion. Quickly glancing ahead, Abbott and White transformed the MediSense acquisition with its FreeStyle and related diabetes care product franchises into becoming a global leader in blood glucose monitoring and other endocrinology-related patient care despite numerous low-cost competitors entering the sector.

MediSense’s primary competitors in the diabetes care space, formidable global healthcare companies, to say the least, did not fare so well. Johnson & Johnson ( NYSE: JNJ ) exited the diabetes care business by selling off their LifeScan diabetes unit in 2018 through a private equity deal to Platinum Private Equity. Germany-based Bayer ( OTCMKTS: BAYRY ) sold its Contour diabetes care franchise to private equity firm KKR and Panasonic Health in 2015. Switzerland based Roche (OTCMKTS: RHHBY ) significantly downsized its Accu-Chek diabetes care business unit between 2014 and 2018.

Kos Pharmaceuticals acquisition and the deal with Boston Scientific to buy Guidant assets

Following the Knoll and MediSense acquisitions plus the Hospira spinoff; Abbott was back in the acquisition saddle by acquiring Kos Pharmaceuticals for $3.7 billion in 2006. Based on this buy, Abbott fortified their cardiovascular pharmaceutical portfolio with two cholesterol agents, Advicor and Niaspan, which aligned well with Abbott’s triglyceride product TriCor.

White and Abbott executed a finesse asset deal in 2006 when Boston Scientific acquired Guidant, a producer of cardiac pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, stents and other cardiovascular medical technology. Abbott purchased the vascular intervention and endovascular businesses from Boston Scientific and agreed to share the rights of Guidant’s drug-eluting stent programs with Boston Scientific.

Abbott paid Boston Scientific $6.4 billion in an arrangement comprised of $4.1 billion for the Guidant assets, a loan of $900 million-plus Abbott purchasing $1.4 billion of Boston Scientific common stock. While it was an unconventional merger and acquisition exercise, the arrangements allowed for Boston Scientific and Guidant to close their deal and avoid antitrust issues with regulators while Abbott was able to access specific elements of Guidant’s product line that is coveted.

GE and Abbott Diagnostics deal implodes

In 2007 White encountered headwinds as a proposed $8.13 billion deal to sell two diagnostic units ( in-vitro diagnostics and point-of-care) to GE fell through. White had partitioned diabetes and molecular diagnostics businesses away from the transaction as they had a more clinical and commercial upside in their future for Abbott to benefit from. Since GE and Abbott mutually agreed to walk away from the deal, no breakup fees were involved.

Advanced Medical Optics acquired by Abbott

Undaunted by the shortcomings of the GE deal, Abbott acquired Advanced Medical Optics for $1.4 billion in 2009. The acquisition instantly made Abbott a leading player in optical healthcare as Advanced Medical Optics was one of the top companies in Lasik laser vision surgery technology and cataract surgery lenses.

Abbott executes Solvay and Piramal acquisitions

White continued to outdistance the GE deal setback with Abbott acquiring the pharmaceuticals business of Belgium-based Solvay Group for $6.6 billion in 2010. This deal was followed up by another acquisition in 2010 as Abbott bought Piramal Healthcare’s Health Solutions unit for $2.2 billion. As a result of this buy, Abbott effectively became the largest pharmaceutical drug manufacturer in India.

At this point in Miles White’s vigorous tenure at Abbott he had completed an array of multi-billion deals that expanded the depth and width of the company’s marketplace and competitive scope; moving forward from 2010 it became clear he was just getting started

Creation of Abbott spinoff AbbVie

In October 2011, Abbott made a strategic decision to partition itself into two distinct commercial organizations, Abbott and AbbVie. Abbott’s business model would consist of diagnostics, medical devices, generic drugs and consumer products. AbbVie would be a pharmaceutical and biotech research and manufacturing enterprise that was launched as a publicly-traded company in 2013 ( NYSE: ABBV ). Miles White would continue as the senior leader of Abbott while longtime Abbott corporate executive Richard Gonzalez would lead the new AbbVie Corporation. AbbVie has moved forward with numerous deals of its own including its latest acquisition of Allergan for $63 billion in 2019.

Kalo Pharmaceutical and Russian drug company Veropharm acquisitions, Abbott Animal Health sale

White picked up the pace in deals again during 2014 in terms of buying and selling assets. In quick succession Abbott, retaining its NYSE symbol moniker “ABT”, acquired CFR Pharmaceutical Kalo Pharma Internacional S.L. for $2.9 billion and Russian drug manufacturer Veropharm for $410 million. This deal included three manufacturing facilities in Russia for Abbott to establish a presence in this enormous limited market access nation. On a smaller yet still strategic scale, Abbott sold off its animal health unit to Zoetis for $225 million in 2014.

Alere and St. Jude Medical acquisitions fortify Abbott’s global healthcare leadership

White kept the pedal to the metal in mergers and acquisitions for 2016 as Abbott picked up Alere for its fast response point-of-care diagnostics products aligned with infectious disease, molecular, cardiometabolic, toxicology and other patient testing assets for $5.8 billion.

Abbott moved forward with another buy in 2016 that was almost 5 times the size of the Alere deal by acquiring St. Jude Medical for $25 billion. St. Jude was primarily built up as a company through a string of more than 15 acquisitions dating back to 1976. Its portfolio included patient care products such as implantable cardio-verter defibrillators (ICD); pacemakers; electrophysiology catheters; vascular closure products structural heart repair products and neurostimulation devices plus diagnostic or testing products for cardiac mapping and visualization systems; optical coherence topography (OCT) imaging systems and other medical technology.

Abbott sells vision care unit

Sharpening its business focus further, Abbott sold its vision care unit to Johnson & Johnson for $4.3 billion in 2017. Abbott had built up the vision care business with its acquisition of Advanced Medical Optics for $1.4 billion in 2009.

Miles White and Abbott Moving forward

White orchestrated numerous other smaller purchases and divestitures at Abbott. It is likely the competitive, innovative and investor driven nature of Abbott will not fade away. As chairman of the board, Miles White will still have an important role in Abbott’s affairs. As a successor, Robert Ford is at the helm of a global healthcare juggernaut which White has grown from a $75 billion company into a $149 billion enterprise. As the future unfolds, patients, medical professionals, Abbott employees and investors will be expecting more great things from Ford’s and White’s leadership.

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