Former CEO, chairman Steere leaving Pfizer board

* Was CEO from 1991 to 2000; chairman from 1992 to 2001

* Oversaw Warner-Lambert takeover, gaining Lipitor

By Bill Berkrot

NEW YORK, March 24 (Reuters) – William Steere, who as chief
executive engineered Pfizer Inc’s (PFE.N: Quote, Profile, Research) $114 billion
acquisition of Warner-Lambert in 2000, is stepping down as a
member of the board of the world’s largest drugmaker after more
than a half century with the company.

It was with Steere at the helm that Pfizer became the
pharmaceutical industry’s biggest player, and the company
continued to grow during a tenure on the board that included
two more mega-mergers — a $60 billion purchase of Pharmacia in
2003 and a $67 billion acquisition of Wyeth in 2009.

Steere, when asked at a press conference why he was making
a hostile takeover bid for Warner-Lambert, smiled at reporters
and replied with a single word, “Lipitor.”

At the time, the companies co-marketed the cholesterol
drug, which eventually grew to annual sales of more than $13
billion.

Steere, who began his Pfizer career as a sales
representative in 1959, rose to the top of a company that came
to be known as a marketing machine.

He became a member of the board in 1987, a year after he
was named president of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. He served as CEO
from 1991 to 2000, and was chairman from 1992 to 2001. Steere
will officially step down from the board as of the company’s
April 28 board meeting, according to a regulatory filing.

The announcement of Steere’s departure comes three months
after Chief Executive Jeffrey Kindler, who oversaw the Wyeth
deal, abruptly left after nearly five years on the job, and
signals a further changing of the guard at the company.

Kindler was replaced by Ian Read, who is conducting a
thorough review of company operations. Many analysts believe it
will result in shedding some business units in an effort to
make Pfizer smaller and leaner — a decidedly different
strategy than that of Steere and Read’s predecessors, Kindler
and Hank McKinnell.

Read last month announced a slashing of the company’s
massive research budget, including layoffs of more than 2,000
researchers.

The company has been widely criticized for a failure to
produce major products from its own labs over the past decade
despite having the world’s largest research budget, and instead
gained its most important products through acquisitions and
licensing deals.

That strategy paid off for Steere. In addition to gaining
Lipitor, the Warner-Lambert deal gave Pfizer massive cost
savings that helped prop up earnings for years.

Even amid declining sales due in part to competition from
cheaper generic versions of rival drugs, Pfizer reported 2010
Lipitor sales of $10.73 billion.

Lipitor is due to lose U.S. patent protection late this
year, heightening the need to find new medicines to replace
lost revenue and to shed costs.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot and Ransdell Pierson; editing by
Andre Grenon)

Former CEO, chairman Steere leaving Pfizer board