Sources close to the situation say that John Mack, the 48-year-old President of VirSci Corporation and publisher of Pharma Marketing News, rebuffed an offer to run Merck & Co., the $23 billion pharmaceutical giant. “
"I have other mountains to climb,”" said Mack, according to these sources.
When asked about the situation, Mr, Mack would not specifically comment on the Merck offer, but did say he planned to climb the 8,611m K2, the world’'s second highest mountain located on the border of Pakistan and China, in June. “
"One Great Mountain is enough for me,”" said Mack. As an aside, he noted that K2 is much more of a challenge than Denali, a 20,000-foot peak in Alaska. “I understand that J.R. [Lodewijk J.R. de Vink, the former chairman, president and chief executive officer of the old Warner-Lambert Co.] will be climbing Denali at about the same time. Of course, he is much older than I am, so I think that mountain is appropriate for him.”
J.R. couldn't be reached for comment, but a report in today’s Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying "I am climbing Denali in the month of June. I'm not going to give that up for the Merck job." (“Heavy Hitters Rebuff Overtures So Far to Run Ailing Merck,” WSJ, 3/29/2005).
"I think everybody views Merck as an extraordinary management challenge," said Richard Evans, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. "Everyone's going to want to see a real athlete named to the job." (WSJ)
Finding an athlete who is not already committed to climbing another mountain, however, may not be easy. Fred Hassan, chief executive of Schering-Plough, for example, was once considered a possible successor to Mr. Gilmartin, Merck’s outgoing CEO. But he’ is booked to climb Kangchenjunga, the 8,586m Nepal peak, this fall.
Failing to attract alpha male mountain climbers, Merck is reaching out to female athletes with experience climbing lesser mountains. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Judy Lewent, Merck's 56-year-old finance chief and president of its human health business in Asia, is among the Merck insiders being considered.”
“Not to belittle her prowess,” quipped Mack, “but I know for a fact that Judy has only managed to climb the diminutive Wazespitze in Austria. I don'’t see how that makes her qualified for the job.”
Asked about an approach to Ms. Lewent, a Merck spokesman says, "The company doesn't comment on rumor and speculation."