Heather Bresch elevated generic-drug maker Mylan from dinky to dominant—and more than doubled its stock price. But to some angry investors, she’s still “what’s her face.”
At 6 a.m. on thursday, July 23, Heather Bresch was running on the treadmill in her home gym when she found out that four men in Amsterdam had effectively seized control of half her company.
In Bresch’s wild world, this qualified as wonderful news.
Bresch is the CEO of Mylan, the generic-drug maker that spent the past summer tangled in a three-way takeover battle with two other drug-industry giants. The Dutchmen’s maneuver, which transferred a large chunk of Mylan shares to a special foundation called a stichting, was the culmination of a strategy Bresch had quietly initiated months earlier. It acted as a poison pill that would undermine Teva Pharmaceuticals’ $40 billion hostile takeover bid for Mylan, taking the power to accept the offer out of common shareholders’ hands. If that bid collapsed, Bresch would be free to pursue the deal she really wanted, an effort she’d launched just before Teva’s offer: Mylan’s own hostile takeover of Ireland-based drugmaker Perrigo .
Still, it was too early to celebrate. A couple of hours later, eating breakfast (two hard-boiled eggs, sliced and seasoned) with a reporter in her office at Mylan’s headquarters outside Pittsburgh, Bresch seemed on edge and ready to pounce. Clad in a black leather laser-cut sheath dress and her signature five-inch stilettos, she kept a tense eye on CNBC until she saw what she’d been waiting for: a commentator declaring that the Teva deal was as good as dead.
Mylan’s stock began falling on the news—in fact, its shares would tumble 30% over the next six weeks—but Bresch wasn’t concerned about shareholders’ feelings. Her low West Virginia twang intensified as she stated her resolve to keep Mylan independent at all costs. “We’re not afraid to take the path of resistance, as you’re witnessing today with this love triangle we’re in,” she said, then corrected herself: “Well, not love.”
By the following Monday, Bresch had won: Teva withdrew its offer. The convoluted corporate dance had protected Bresch’s job—and with it, her place as the most powerful woman in the drug industry. But it also thickened the cloud of controversy that has shadowed her career, turning her story into a juicy saga of sexism, drugs, and even rock and roll.
Bresch, a 46-year-old who’s spent more than half her life at Mylan, has steered the company’s transformation from a quirky outfit run out of a West Virginia trailer to a global operator with 30,000 employees in 145 countries. Born into politics—her father, Joe Manchin, is a longtime West Virginia Democratic stalwart who’s now a U.S. senator—Bresch has mastered the regulatory world. Since becoming CEO in 2012, she’s overseen a major revenue increase; Mylan projects sales of up to $10.1 billion this year, up from $6.1 billion in 2011. Today she remains the only woman ever to run a Fortune 500 pharma company—though Mylan was kicked off this year’s 500 list after reincorporating in the Netherlands in a tax-lowering transaction known as an inversion.
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