Capital Markets | Pharmaceuticals M&A

Walgreen CEO Greg Wasson grabbed a tiger by the tail with his plan for the biggest US drugstore chain to acquire Alliance Boots, a European multinational drug dispensary. Wasson, who joined Walgreen in 1980 as a pharmacy intern when he was a student at Purdue University and rose through the ranks to become CEO in 2009, wanted to take the Illinois-based company global. He ended up taking early retirement in December at the age of 56.

Emboldened by Walgreen’s successful takeover of New York’s Duane Reade in 2010, Wasson presided over his company’s purchase of a 45% stake in Alliance Boots in 2012 and exercised Walgreen’s option to acquire the remaining 55% of the Switzerland-based firm in a $15.3 billion deal that closed in December 2014. Usually in big mergers of this type, the purchaser absorbs the target. However, in this case, it didn’t work out that way.

Stefano Pessina, 73, an Italian billionaire who merged his Alliance UniChem with Boots in 2006 to form Alliance Boots, became acting CEO of the combined Walgreen Boots Alliance when the latest merger closed. Wasson was supposed to lead the combined entity, but Walgreen’s cash and stock purchase of Alliance Boots made Pessina the largest shareholder and left him in a position to call the shots in what looks suspiciously like a takeover of Walgreen by its European target.