A $4.7 billion makeup for chairman Stefano Pessina. In the race among CVS Health, Walmart, and Amazon, something is not clicking with Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA). WBA was a late entrant in the diversification race but they certainly went big when they did, acquiring VillageMD, Summit Health, and CityMD plus at-home care provider CareCentrix and specialty pharmacy Shields Health Solutions. But the results have been disappointing. Their Q3 reported in June was negative [TTA 28 June]. Roz Brewer, appointed as CEO 2 1/2 years ago for her expertise in retail operations at Starbucks and Sam’s Club, was also tasked with making Mr. Pessina’s healthcare diversification strategy, started in 2020 with VillageMD, a reality. Billions were spent, including a full $5 billion purchase of VillageMD along with their purchase of Summit Health and CityMD, plus CareCentrix. With no healthcare experience, she had to learn and execute from scratch–an adventure that ended on 31 August with her resignation. CNBC
How now, Stefano? Ms. Brewer’s temporary replacement is Ginger Graham, the lead independent director and a pharmaceutical veteran as former president and CEO of Amylin Pharmaceuticals plus group chairman in the office of the president for cardiology medical technology company Guidant. She will serve only until another CEO, now with healthcare background, is chosen. Mr. Pessina has an outsize vote in the choice as a 17% shareholder, engineer of the company, and himself CEO for five years after merging Alliance Boots with Walgreens in 2014.
Two other options for WBA are to go private, which Mr. Pessina has done before in 2007, but one that involves taking on heavy debt loads in addition to a high level of existing debt. Unlike 16 years ago, at 82 he has limited time to recoup the value of his personal 17% share. The other is to find an acquirer willing to pay a premium for the company higher than the current share price. That acquirer due to antitrust could not be a competitor like Walmart, but possibly a healthcare provider or a health insurer. But given the current attitudes at FTC and DOJ, even that approach may fall into the very wide Antitrust Net [TTA 11 Aug and previous].
WBA’s troubles are coming at a bad time, with CVS Health and Amazon also struggling with perhaps too-aggressive approaches in a down market, especially for healthcare.
The analysis in Crain’s Chicago Business (PDF) is worth your time–see pages 1 and 39.
Update The class action lawsuit by customers who purchased Theranos blood tests at Arizona-located Walgreens, originally filed in 2016, was settled two weeks ago. Walgreens will pay $44 million into a fund for affected customers. There are two levels of individual payments. One group of customers will receive double the cost of their Theranos tests, plus an additional $10 base payment. Then there are members of a Walgreens Edison subclass, presumably more damaged, who will receive an additional $700 to $1,000 for medical battery claims. The plaintiffs’ memorandum has additional detail to be approved by the US District Court in the District of Arizona. There was also a settlement with Sunny Balwani that involves the successor company, Theranos ABC, but none with Elizabeth Holmes. MedTech Dive Hopefully the new CEO will avoid the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) that powered Walgreens’ involvement with Theranos.