Forest Labs’ 85-Year-Old CEO Solomon to Leave at Year End

Forest Laboratories Inc., maker of the Alzheimer’s drug Namenda and blood-pressure pill Bystolic, said Howard Solomon will retire as chief executive officer at year’s end after holding the job for more than three decades.

Solomon, 85, will remain chairman through the 2014 annual shareholder meeting, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Forest Labs said it has already been evaluating candidates both from within the company and outside and plans to name a new CEO before the end of the year.

“We have been actively engaged in the succession planning process for some time and agree with Howard that now is the right time to begin the transition to new leadership,” Gerald M. Lieberman, a member of the board committee overseeing the succession, said in the statement. “Our mission and focus now is to find the right CEO to take our products forward and build on the platform that Howard helped put in place.”

Solomon joined Forest Labs in 1964 as a director and board secretary and became CEO in 1977, overseeing the company’s progression from a small maker of vitamins into a drug company with $4.6 billion in sales in fiscal 2012. Revenue tumbled 32 percent in fiscal 2013 after patent protection ended on the company’s antidepressant Lexapro, once its biggest-seller with more than $2 billion in annual sales.

The company is pushing to offset the decline with the sale of newer drugs, including the lung treatment Tudorza and bowel disorder medicine Linzess.

Icahn Battle

Forest Labs gained 5.4 percent to $39.53 at the close in New York, the biggest single-day increase since September 2010. The shares have increased 12 percent this year.

The company in recent years has fought off the advances of billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who won a board seat last year in his second proxy fight. Icahn’s qualms included the potential for Solomon’s son David to succeed him.

Forest Labs lost exclusivity on Lexapro in March last year, causing the company to report its first annual loss since fiscal 1997 as cheaper generic copies flooded the market.

Solomon has focused on selling new products, introducing seven medicines since 2008, he said in an April 23 statement.

Before joining Forest Labs, Solomon was a lawyer. He now is a trustee of the New York Presbyterian Hospital, a member of the executive committee of the board of the Metropolitan Opera, director of the New York City Ballet and director emeritus of Lincoln Center. He graduated from the City College of New York and has a law degree from Yale University.

“I recognize that the time has come for me to retire from the full time responsibility of running Forest Laboratories,” Solomon said in the statement. “I will be 86 this August and I think the company is entitled to the rigorous assurances of continuity that a younger chief executive can provide.”

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