Levin comes home to Americanize Teva

Dr. Jeremy Levin told "Globes" that he has taken up the post as Teva CEO for business, not Zionist, reasons.

Sources at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (Nasdaq: TEVA; TASE: TEVA) and in the pharmaceutical industry have told "Globes" that Teva may have acquired Cephalon, but Cephalon actually took over Teva.

The remark refers to the change in corporate culture at the Israeli generic drug giant, which began to resemble the culture of the young and innovative US company that it acquired. On the face of it, the appointment of Dr. Jeremy Levin as Teva's new president and CEO at first looks like a step in this direction, but things are more complicated beneath the surface.

Levin joins Teva after stints as business development manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) and Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS; LSE: NOV; SWX: NOVZ). He may be an American, and will soon be an Israeli, but he was born in South Africa, and his friends say that he is a strong Zionist. He has made countless visits to Israel to establish joint ventures between the companies he was working for and Israeli parties.

Few people have had a more fascinating life than Levin. The details are sketchy, but it is known that he was born to an important South African family, and that he diligently climbed the corporate ladder, first in medicine and then in industry. En route, he worked in many countries, so he is ready to handle Teva's global reach.

Levin is believed to have very close ties with Israel's government. He has lived in Israel before, when he was young, and even acquired part of his professional training here. He chose to open today's speech with remarks in Hebrew, demonstrating a good grasp of the language. Levin loves Israel and loves innovation, and knows the pharmaceutical industry like few others.

"Teva is a special company, an Israeli company, and it will stay that way. This is a company where the actions of its managers and employees help millions of people around the world every day. There is no more successful realization of a vision than to work in the pharmaceutical industry," said Levin at the press conference.

"I am excited to come and live here in Israel. My Hebrew will improve. My family and friends around the world know how important it is for me to move to Israel and contribute to the advancement of science and medicine in Israel, and to its economy. To my friends and family in Israel - I have come home."

Levin will move with his wife to Israel, and may be joined by his two daughters, who are in their 20s.

In an exclusive interview with "Globes", Levin said that he did not decide to take the post at Teva out of Zionist motives, but for business reasons. He said that the decision was not an easy one, since he was happy at his job as president of business development and strategy at Bristol-Myers Squibb. But "Teva ties up a lot of loose ends for me. I am familiar with the company, and I've studied it since I first came to Israel 40 years ago," he said.

As for his relations with Israel, Levin said, "I am South African. We left the country for political reasons. We fled to Rhodesia. We moved to Israel on the way to England. I worked as a dairyman and at a number of other jobs at Beit Alfa, but I won a scholarship to study medicine at Cambridge, so I returned to England. In my soul, I am still a doctor, and there's nothing I like better than dealing directly with patients."

"Globes": Have you thought about how you will communicate with Teva's shareholders, some of whom now have very mixed feelings about the company?

Levin: "I'll have to learn about Teva's shareholders whom I don’t yet know. I am familiar with the capital market, because I once floated a start-up, and I believe that there must be as much transparency as possible, the creation of a close relationship and explain, and in this area, and sometimes teach investors about the company."

"Globes" interviewed Levin six years ago, when he worked for Novartis. "We want to work with you," he said at the time, in a call to Israeli companies. Commenting on the development of innovative drugs, he said, "I sometimes don’t understand how scientists go to work in the morning, when they know that in most cases the product will fail. We want the failure to happen much earlier in the process, to save time and resources."

Levin is therefore an unusual choice as he is the first non-Israeli ever to head Teva. "This was possible only thanks to the relatively new chairman, Dr. Philip Frost. The old guard would never have allowed it," a source close to Teva told "Globes". But Levin is not really a foreigner. "Levin is the perfect hybrid CEO, with his heart in Israel, but the ability to speak American with Teva's disappointed investors, its American customers, and with potential partners in the US, and, of course, with Cephalon's team," added the source.

People in Israel's life science industry who know Levin say that he is a very nice man, and also a very smart one. "He sometimes buys products from companies, even when the company that owns it does not realize its full potential and how it fits with Bristol-Myers Squibb or Novartis's portfolio," said one person.

Levin faces two challenges: directly communicating with Teva's shareholders as CEO of the company, and handling the board of directors, which includes some strong and opinionated directors who have held their posts for a long time.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 2, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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