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Medtronic choice for CEO gets high marks

Wall Street analysts following Medtronic reacted positively to the company’s announcement of Omar Ishrak as its new chief executive to replace retiring Bill Hawkins.

Wall Street analysts following Medtronic reacted positively to the company’s announcement of Omar Ishrak as its new chief executive to replace retiring Bill Hawkins.

Ishrak comes to Fridley-based Medtronic from GE Healthcare Systems, where he was president and CEO. He has been with GE for 16 years. GE Healthcare Systems is the largest division of GE Healthcare.

Analyst Adam Feinstein of Barclays Capital wrote in a research note that Ishrak is a “good choice” for multiple reasons. First and foremost, he represents a “fresh face at a company where, in our view, investors were ready for a change.” His experience of running a large, successful and diversified health-care company also is a strength, as is “his track record of driving strong top and bottom line growth at GE Healthcare.”

At Citi Investments Research, Matthew Dodds opined that the board’s choice is “unexpected but looks promising and should be received positively today by the Street and investors.” Dodds added that Ishrak’s “background is weighted towards diagnostics/imaging rather than MDT’s core of implantable devices, but he does have a strong engineering background.”

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David Lewis of Morgan Stanley took a slightly different tack in his note to investors, titled “The Eagle has Landed.” Lewis declared that “the lack of therapeutic device experience does not concern us, and in fact was our preference.” He also adds some color about Ishrak noting that “early discussions with multiple industry sources suggest he is charismatic and a very capable leader who may be able to embrace, change, or direct culture.”

Like other analysts, Lewis thinks highly of Ishrak’s performance at GE Healthcare, underscoring that he has a “proven history of innovating in various end markets, and was immersed in a culture focused on being #1 in its end markets and staying there.”

Still, Lewis felt it necessary to include some caveats, the unknowns at this point. They include: what Ishrak’s views are on capital deployment and what mechanisms he believes can drive shareholder value; whether the change that he will usher in at Medtronic will be cultural and/or strategic; and finally, how Ishrak’s ideas for change will be greeted by senior Medtronic executives and board members, given that the board controlled the search for a new CEO.

The last point from Lewis is intriguing, particularly when taken in the context of what he says earlier when he points out that Ishrak is being named chairman and CEO immediately. Lewis believes that this immediate elevation into the chairmanship is noteworthy given that “changes at the company may need to extend beyond management.” Looks like Lewis is expecting Ishrak to shake up the board. (Hawkins became director before he became CEO, but took the chairman’s role a year after he was named president and CEO, and not immediately like Ishrak is.)

Medtronic’s board is made of 11 directors, including Hawkins. They are: Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines Inc.; David Calhoun, chairman and CEO of the Nielsen Co.; Victor Zhau, president and CEO, Duke University Health System; Shirley Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; James Lenehan, financial consultant and retired vice chairman and president of Johnson & Johnson; Denise O’Leary, private venture capital investor; Kendall Powell, chairman and CEO of General Mills; Robert Pozen, chairman, MFS Investment Management; Jean-Pierre Rosso, chairman, World Economic Forum USA; and Jack Schuler, founder, Crabtree Partners.

Schuler is the longest-serving board member, having been a director since 1990, followed by Rosso, who attained that position in 1998. Leary, who became a director in 2000, is the third longest-serving Medtronic director.