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New CEO, chairman appointed at Bausch & Lomb

Mon, 03/15/2010 - 9:17am
BEN DOBBIN - AP Business Writer - Associated Press

Two former Schering-Plough Corp. executives have taken charge at Bausch & Lomb Inc., whose chief executive retired after guiding the optical products maker through the aftermath of a devastating recall of its flagship contact lens cleaner.

Bausch & Lomb said Monday that Brent Saunders, 40, has been appointed CEO and Fred Hassan, 63, was named chairman. Saunders was president of Schering-Plough's consumer health care unit and Hassan was the drugmaker's CEO and chairman until it was bought in November by Merck & Co. for $41.1 billion.

Gerald Ostrov, 60, who had led Johnson & Johnson's rival vision care business for eight years, became CEO and chairman at Bausch & Lomb in January 2008. Although he's leaving the helm, Ostrov will serve as a consultant to Saunders and Hassan, the company said.

In May 2006, Bausch & Lomb permanently withdrew its ReNu with MoistureLoc multipurpose lens solution after it was blamed for a flurry of dangerous fungal infections.

Since 2008, Bausch & Lomb says it has paid out about $250 million to settle 600-plus lawsuits linking MoistureLoc to a potentially blinding infection known as Fusarium keratitis. Seven people in Florida, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and West Virginia had to have an eye removed, and more than 60 others needed vision-saving corneal transplants.

"The previous management should be commended for all the hard work it did to stabilize this company," Saunders said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I've been involved in a stabilization project myself in my past employer, and I know how difficult that can be."

Over the last decade, the New Jersey-based Schering-Plough, maker of allergy, cold and cholesterol drugs, was beset by a series of federal investigations and charges.

"I think the lesson learned in ... any of these types of situations is that you can never take your products for granted," Saunders said. "Having high-quality standards and making sure you cherish and have a passion for the products is absolutely critical to build into the culture of any company."

Bausch & Lomb, which employs close to 11,000 people, makes contact lenses, ophthalmic drugs and vision-correction surgical instruments. It was acquired by private equity firm Warburg Pincus for $3.67 billion in October 2007.

After posting $2.5 billion in 2007 sales, Bausch & Lomb lost its dominance in the lucrative lens care market. About 2.3 million of the nation's 30 million soft lens wearers used MoistureLoc, generating $100 million in annual sales before the recall.

Analysts expect the 157-year-old company to return to public ownership within the next six years.

"It's time for the company to look to the future" with a mission of becoming "not the biggest" but "the best company in vision care," Saunders said.

"Absolutely, the mandate is to grow ... within the business segments we have," Saunders said. "We'll be looking to do some tuck-in acquisitions, focused in looking for new products and new sciences and technologies to advance eye health."

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On the Net:

www.bausch.com

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