Bruce Ross, one of the lightning rods for criticism from billionaire investor Carl Icahn during last spring’s proxy battle at Biogen Idec, has agreed to relinquish the company chairmanship and leave the board at next year’s annual meeting in what appears to be an ongoing boardroom shakeup. He will be joined on his way out by another director, Marijn Dekkers, who is leaving the board of Cambridge, MA-based Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) as he takes over as CEO of Bayer Healthcare.
The departures of Ross, 68, and Dekkers, 50, are part of an ongoing transformation of the Biogen Idec board that began when two of Icahn’s nominees won election at a hotly contested annual shareholder meeting in June. Ross will keep his seat as a director until the company’s 2010 annual meeting, but he will be replaced as chairman on January 1 by William Young, a Biogen director of the past 12 years.
These two latest departures mean that a total of four directors have stepped down from the 13-person board in the last six months, including MIT biologist and Biogen co-founder Phil Sharp and Biogen’s former R&D chief Cecil Pickett. The shakeup has created the potential for Icahn’s nominees to fill some of the power vacuum, especially since they won the votes of shareholders based on a platform that said Biogen was suffering from “failed leadership.” The board didn’t take kindly to the accusation that it was doing a poor job, and the hostilities spilled out into a public venue at last June’s meeting. When Ross called a recess at the meeting instead of announcing the results of the shareholder vote, Icahn portfolio manager Alex Denner accused him of manipulating the process, and shouted out to Ross that, “This is not North Korea.”
Of course, none of that hostility was mentioned in today’s press release about Ross’s resignation. In a statement, the board said this:
“We are deeply appreciative of all that Bruce Ross has accomplished in his four years as chairman of Biogen Idec’s Board and his 13 years as director. During that time, the Company developed and brought to market products that have made a real difference in the lives of many thousands of patients and that have driven tremendous growth at Biogen Idec.”
Denner declined to comment on the matter.
Ross, appointed chairman of Biogen in January 2006, is president of Cancer Rx, a healthcare-consulting firm. Before that, he was CEO of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an influential group of 15 of the largest cancer centers in the United States. He previously held several senior management positions during a 27-year career at Bristol-Myers Squibb. He first became affiliated with Biogen Idec when he became a director of IDEC Pharmaceuticals in 1997, before its 2003 merger with Biogen.