By choosing a new chief executive who has spent more time working for Big Mac than for Big Pharma, Pfizer ( PFE) certainly caught Wall Street's attention. The initial response to Jeffrey Kindler, one of three Pfizer vice chairmen competing for the job, appears to be favorable partly because Kindler isn't Henry "Hank" McKinnell, who stepped down as CEO immediately on Friday. McKinnell will remain chairman until February, leaving 12 months earlier than the mandatory retirement age of 65. Barbara Ryan, Deutsche Banc Securities analyst, said Monday that the action by Pfizer's board shows its acknowledgement "that an abrupt departure of from the current modus operandi was critical." She has a buy rating on Pfizer and doesn't own shares. Her firm does or seeks to do business with companies covered in research reports. David Moskowitz of Friedman Billings Ramsey wrote in a research report that Pfizer's management "has steadily lost all credibility, in our view, guiding for obviously unachievable objectives and teaching the industry a painful lesson on mega-merger failure." Still, Moskowitz maintains an outperform rating on the stock, but he doesn't own Pfizer. His firm seeks to do or does business with companies it covers. Pfizer's stock has fallen almost 40% since McKinnell took over as president and chief executive on Jan. 1, 2001. He added the role of chairman in May 2001. Since 2001, the Amex index of large drug stocks, including Pfizer, dropped 21.7%. Since McKinnell took over, Pfizer's sales nearly doubled, aided by the 2003 acquisition of Pharmacia. As president and chief operating officer, McKinnell played a key role in Pfizer's 2000 purchase of Warner-Lambert. However, he also came under after Pfizer
issued a profit warning and withdrew two years of guidance last October. Recently, Pfizer's stock was unchanged at $26.11 on heavier than average trading.
Kindler, 51, joined Pfizer in 2002 as senior vice president and general counsel. He became vice chairman last year, and he's been in charge of the legal and corporate affairs divisions. Previously, he was an executive at McDonald's ( MCD), starting in 1996 as senior vice president and general counsel. He later became chairman and CEO of Boston Market and president of Partner Brands, both owned by McDonald's. Before that, he was vice president and senior counsel for litigation and legal policy for General Electric ( GE) and a partner at the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly. Kindler was named one of three vice chairmen in February 2005, setting up a contest for succeeding McKinnell. The others are Karen Katen, who joined Pfizer in 1974 and is in charge of human health operations, and David Shedlarz, who joined the company in 1976 and has been supervising finance, strategic planning, information systems and human resources. Risinger says there's a possibility both will leave the company. "However, change may not be a bad thing at Pfizer," says Risinger, who doesn't own shares. His firm has had an investment banking relationship.
Adding that Wall Street's "frustration level
with Pfizer is quite high," Brozak said he would have preferred a more detailed response from Kindler and the company. "He needs to reassure investors that he has a plan," says Brozak, who doesn't own shares of Pfizer and doesn't rate the stock. His firm doesn't have an investment banking relationship. John Boris of Bear Stearns issued a research note Sunday in which he supported the choice and reaffirmed an outperform rating. "We see Pfizer's board electing to decisively move on change -- Kindler -- rather than sticking with the status quo -- Shedlarz and Katen," he says. Boris doesn't own shares, but his firm is a financial adviser in Pfizer's plan to sell its consumer products division to Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ). "We look for Kindler to instill a blend of efficiency in Pfizer's operations coupled with the accountability of General Electric's corporate culture into Pfizer's paternalistic corporate culture," Boris says. He predicts the new CEO will hire outsiders for some executive jobs. Aside from staying as chairman until February, McKinnell said little about his future plans. The company "is aggressively transforming its business model to build the next-generation Pfizer," he said in prepared remarks. "With these initiatives well underway, it is time to transition to new leadership to accelerate the company's transformation," he added." I have had a great 35 years at Pfizer, and now is also the right time for me personally to pursue other business and philanthropic interests."