Billionaire Boots boss Stefano Pessina to step aside

Billionaire Boots boss to step aside after five-year stint in charge that saw pharmacy group lose more than half its value

The billionaire chief executive of Boots owner Walgreens Boots Alliance will step aside after a five-year stint in charge that saw the pharmacy group lose more than half its value.

Italian-born Stefano Pessina built the £26billion empire through a series of deals over four decades, and took the top job in 2015 shortly after the merger of Walgreens and Alliance Boots. 

But the 79-year-old, who owns a 16 per cent stake in the global giant, will take a less hands-on role, becoming executive chairman once a replacement is found. 

Quitting: Italian-born Stefano Pessina built the £26billion empire through a series of deals over four decades

Pessina said ‘now is the right time’ to hand over to a successor. 

Walgreens Boots Alliance, which employs 440,000 people and generated £106billion in revenues last year, has suffered a difficult period. Boots – the UK pharmacy chain – has been struggling amid competition from Amazon and the supermarkets. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has plunged the High Street deeper into crisis and earlier this month Boots axed 4,000 jobs and shut 48 opticians having already announced plans to close 200 stores. Revenues in its stores have halved during lockdown. 

Although sales of paracetamol and hand sanitiser were strong, beauty and hair products sold poorly due to low footfall. 

Pessina said: ‘I look forward to continuing to serve the company as executive chairman, and to helping to ensure the success of the new chief executive officer in every way possible.’ Walgreen’s shares fell below $40 last night having been trading at a peak of over $95 in the summer of 2015. 

Analyst Elizabeth Anderson said: ‘We believe the company should cast a wide net to bring in fresh perspectives.’ 

Pessina built his pharmacy empire in a series of deals in Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, creating what became Alliance Sante. He entered Britain in 1997 through a merger with Unichem before a further merger with Boots in 2006. He took the combined Alliance Boots group private in 2007 and then sold it to US giant Walgreens, becoming chief executive in the process. 

Other brands in the group include US drugstore chain Duane Reade and the Alliance Healthcare wholesale and distribution operation in Europe.

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