Medtronic CEO to step down

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | December 20, 2010
Medtronic Inc. said Monday morning its CEO and chairman William A. Hawkins will step down April 29, at the close of the company's fiscal year.

The Minneapolis-based medical device giant said it was looking externally for a replacement, but Hawkins would stay with the company until one was found.

"Bill has made a very significant impact at Medtronic and his service is deeply appreciated," Ken Powell, lead director on Medtronic's Board of Directors, said in a statement.

Hawkins, 56, became CEO in August 2007, and has chaired the company's board since 2008. He joined Medtronic eight years ago as senior vice president and president of the company's vascular business, before being promoted to president and chief operating officer in 2004.

Analysts with health care investment bank Leerink Swann said Hawkins faced a tough period for Medtronic, as sales were squeezed by slow market growth, and the company lost market share to rivals, but that he managed to maintain healthy financials and usher in some big portfolio moves.

"[U]nder Hawkins' leadership, MDT has continued to drive free cash flow, invest in the pipeline, and manage SG&A expense to position the company for improving EPS growth ahead," Leerink Swann analyst Rick Wise said in a letter to investors Monday. "Still, with a new leadership team, we would think that everything will be on the table---rethinking the portfolio, further rethinking cost reduction [or] accelerating share repurchases."

Hawkins began his career as a biomedical engineer with a small company that was among the first to use ultrasound, according to an interview he gave the New York Times last year. He went on to attend business school at the University of Virginia, but only after calling up and convincing the admissions director, who initially rejected him, to not only focus on his test scores, he said.