BALDING and bespectacled, he looks like a perfectly ordinary middle grade accountant.
But Ian Read is spearheading the biggest foreign takeover of a British company yet – Pfizer’s £63 billion bid for pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca.
For the past 36 years, the 60-year-old Scot has worked his way through the ranks to become chairman and chief executive of the US firm, which introduced the sexual performance drug Viagra to the industry in the 1990s.
Yet he is intensely private and biographical details are sketchy. After graduating in chemical engineering at Imperial College, London, in 1974, he qualified as a chartered accountant and joined Pfizer as an operational auditor in 1978.
His unflashy demeanour served him well in his ascent of the corporate ladder, running Pfizer’s businesses in Europe, Latin America and Africa.
In 1996, he was appointed president of Pfizer’s international pharmaceuticals group and four years later, became executive vice-president of its European division. In 2001, he was named corporate vice-president and 12 months on, his role expanded to take in Europe, Latin America, Canada, the Middle East and Africa.
Mr Read, who is now a US citizen, succeeded Jeff Kindler as the firm’s chief executive in 2010 after year of underperformance. At the time, Pfizer’s share price had fallen sharply, and Mr Read was seen as a safe pair of hands.
He went on to scale back the firm’s research and development work, a move which resulted in thousands of job losses as Pfizer sought to streamline its operations.
The AstraZeneca takeover, however, signals a sharp U-turn in strategy, and has thrust the intensely private business leader into the spotlight.
In a recent interview, he discussed the tax issues behind the proposed deal. He told Fortune magazine: “I’ve been very clear that the origin of this deal is the combination of the two companies, and the science and the ability to create great value for shareholders. Now when I look at that deal compared with what I would have to pay if I did it in the US, the negative [tax] synergies would kill the deal.
“There’s a 20 per cent tax rate in the UK, and here, because of dividend requirements, it would probably be a 38 per cent tax rate. So to get the deal done we have to domicile in the UK.”
On Monday, he had several telephone conversations with Business Secretary Vince Cable before arriving in London the following day to meet Chancellor George Osborne, science minister David Willets, and Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood.
As well as drawing a salary of more than £11m and a private jet, Mr Read has homes in Connecticut and Florida.
Last September, he was appointed as a member of the President’s Export Council, an advisory body which offers guidance advice to the White House on export issues.
Other members of the 26-strong group include Robert Iger, the chief executive of Walt Disney, John Donahoe, the chief of online auction site, eBay, and Alan Mulally, the president and chief of Ford.