Kevin Sharer stepped down as CEO of Amgen Inc. on Wednesday after more than a decade piloting the Thousand Oaks biotechnology giant, allowing Bob Bradway to take over as the company's fourth CEO.
"Bob is an exceptional person who's fully ready," Sharer said at Amgen's annual meeting of stockholders in Westlake Village. "I could not be happier for Amgen or prouder of him."
Bradway did not speak during the meeting.
Sharer said he feels privileged to have been a part of the "Amgen story" and thanked gathered shareholders for their support over the years.
"Sometimes it has not been easy," he said. "I know that. I especially remember 2002, after the Immunex acquisition. For those of you who were in the room that day, there was a lot of energy in that room, and I can't say that it was fully supportive."
Sharer spent $17 billion to acquire the Seattle-based Immunex Corp., gaining Immunex's rights to Enbrel, a rheumatoid arthritis drug. The deal left some analysts and shareholders wondering whether earnings would suffer. However, Enbrel has done well and is listed as one of Amgen's principal products.
Enbrel sales for the years ended Dec. 31, 2011, 2010 and 2009, were $3.7 billion, $3.5 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively. Sales of the drug increased by 7 percent to $938 million in the first quarter this year.
"It turned out to be a big winner for patients and shareholders," Sharer said.
About 87 percent of outstanding shares were represented at the meeting Wednesday.
Stockholders rejected four proposals, including one introduced at the behest of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
About 12 PETA representatives, dressed in black and wearing monkey and dog masks, stood outside the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, the meeting site. Their proposal would have required the company's board of directors to issue annual transparency reports so stockholders could see that research animals receive proper care.
Five percent of the votes cast were in favor of the PETA-backed proposal.
PETA research associate Jeffrey Brown spoke about the proposal at the meeting. Although it was rejected, he was not let down.
"I spent a lot of time talking to people in advance of the voting today that got to hear some of that and changed their votes," he said. "Every opportunity is an opportunity to present this as an issue."
The three other rejected proposals would have blocked the CEO from also serving as chairman of the board, required disclosure of lobbying policies and practices, and required that the CEO be able to serve on at most one other board of directors.
The meeting also included a tribute to founding CEO George Rathmann, who died April 22 at his Palo Alto home at age 84.
"He may have passed from this Earth but he didn't pass from Amgen," Sharer said. "His statue is still in front of the George Rathmann laboratories."
Sharer's departure has been welcomed by some shareholders who have criticized his large compensation packages. The audience erupted in a loud groan Wednesday when Sharer commented, "I don't even have a pension package."
But one woman stood up and thanked him for his tenure, and Sharer ended the meeting sounding confident he'd done well by shareholders.
"In terms of shareholder value and creation, we fought the toughest decade that business has ever seen to better than a draw, and I think shareholders came out OK," he said.
Sharer will be chairman of the board of directors until the end of the year, then will retire from the company.
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