By Peter Loftus
Abbott Laboratories said Chief Executive Miles D. White, who oversaw the transformation of the health-care-products maker with a series of acquisitions and spinoffs in more than 20 years at the helm, will step down as CEO in March 2020.
The Abbott Park, Ill., company, which makes heart devices, Similac baby formula and diagnostic tests, named Abbott's president and operating chief, Robert B. Ford, to succeed Mr. White, who will remain executive chairman.
Mr. Ford has led various Abbott businesses during his 23 years with the company.
Mr. White has led Abbott since 1999, one of the longest CEO tenures among major U.S. companies.
"It's a good time to transition," Mr. White said in an interview, because he is 64 years of age, and his successor is ready. "I think the company's in the best shape it's ever been in."
Abbott's annual sales grew to $30.6 billion from about $12.5 billion under Mr. White. One of his most consequential deals was Abbott's 2001 acquisition of Knoll Pharmaceuticals from BASF for $7.2 billion, which landed Abbott the arthritis drug Humira.
Humira, which also treats a range of other diseases, went on to become the highest-selling prescription drug in the world.
Abbott in 2013 spun off its core pharmaceutical business, including Humira, as a new company named AbbVie Inc., after Mr. White concluded that business was headed in a different direction than the rest of Abbott's divisions.
More recently, Abbott in 2017 acquired St. Jude Medical for $23.6 billion, expanding Abbott's medical-device business. Mr. White said he has "changed the company a couple of times along the way" to adapt to changes in technology and the practice of medicine.
Evercore ISI analyst Vijay Kumar said in a research note that Mr. White was a "larger than life figure" at Abbott, who delivered strong returns for shareholders. Mr. White, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant, joined Abbott in 1984.
Abbott's shares were relatively flat during afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Mr. Ford, 46, was named president of Abbott in 2018, a move that telegraphed the succession plan. He previously led Abbott's medical-device business, oversaw the launch of the fast-selling FreeStyle Libre glucose monitor for diabetes and led the integration of the St. Jude acquisition.
Mr. Ford said in an interview he plans to focus on continued growth of FreeStyle Libre, diagnostics and Abbott's emerging-markets business. Mindful of Silicon Valley's growing interest in health care, Mr. Ford also said he plans to make sure Abbott adapts to consumers' use of phones and other connected devices to monitor their health.
Abbott's board has named Mr. Ford a director. He has a bachelor's degree from Boston College and a master's degree in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business.
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