Billionaire dealmaking CEO of Walgreens, who started with a small family business, may be at it again


A potential acquisition of drug distributor AmerisourceBergen by Walgreens Boots Alliance is right in line with CEO Stefano Pessina‘s past moves, analysts say, which would add another piece to the global pharmacy empire the Italian billionaire helped assemble.

Pessina and his management team aren’t afraid to think outside the box, George Hill, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, told CNBC.

The 76-year-old Pessina started by turning a local family drug distributor into the multibillion-dollar European powerhouse Alliance Boots. He later pushed for the partnership between Alliance Boots and Walgreens, which eventually bought the rest of Alliance in 2014 and made Pessina chief executive officer.

“Stefano has a very successful track record of doing deals in this space,” Hill said. Hill called the possibility of an AmerisourceBergen and Walgreens deal unusual but added Pessina’s management team isn’t afraid of complexity.

The Wall Street Journal reported late Monday that Walgreens approached AmerisourceBergen about buying the firm. AmerisourceBergen shares skyrocketed more than 25 percent after hours Monday and were up as much as 13 percent on Tuesday.

Walgreens, which owns about a 26 percent stake in AmerisourceBergen, has not made a formal offer, according to the Journal, which added a deal may not materialize.

AmerisourceBergen did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. Walgreens declined to comment on the Journal’s report.

The deal would certainly align with Pessina’s “world dominance” strategy, said David Larsen, a Leerink Partners analyst, who covers Walgreens and other drug retailers.

“We believe the [Walgreens/AmerisourceBergen] transaction is very consistent with Stefano’s long-term strategy,” Larsen said in a note to clients. “The format of the potential transaction is consistent with past deals where [Walgreens] would acquire a portion of ‘target.'”

Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners, told CNBC that several of the actions taken by Pessina throughout his career have worked out well. However, he doesn’t see Pessina’s possible push for buying the remainder of Amerisource as a smart move.

“When Walgreens first bought AmerisourceBergen, it worked out well without doing a full transaction,” Bailey said. “This is probably not the best move long term.”

Pessina could be approaching the drug distributor out of fear of e-commerce giant Amazon, which is in talks about a potential entry into the pharmacy space, Bailey argued. Amazon announced last month a venture with Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan in hopes of reducing health-care costs. The three-company alliance brings together a formative brain trust in Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Warren Buffett of Berkshire and Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan.

“If that [venture] takes off, I think somebody like a drug distributor or retail drug store is going to see a little more pressure,” Bailey said, but he added that he’s skeptical of the Bezos-Buffett-Dimon joint venture and said it could be nothing more than a “splashy advertisement.”



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