The second coming of King began in March 2004, when it became apparent that the Gregorys' mistakes had put the company in
a nearly indefensible position: Inventories were through the roof, sales and marketing expenses were excessive, and King's
product portfolio was facing attacks from multiple competitors. Not only did the Gregorys have no answer for any of these
challenges, but their top-heavy management structure hampered the search for a solution. As part of its plan to eliminate
the infamous founders, the board encouraged then-CEO Jeff to recruit a potential successor. He decided on Bristol-Myers Squibb's
president of virology and oncology, Brian Markison, who left the company he'd been with for 22 years to become King's COO.
The plan was for Markison to work with Jeff for about a year, then succeed him. But a week before Markison's first day on
the job, he got word that Jeff—having reached a point of irreconcilable differences with the board—would be leaving the company
immediately. Committed to doing a CEO search, King's board interviewed about seven candidates, while Markison went to work
on beefing up corporate compliance, identifying manufacturing inefficiencies, and coming up with a plan for how to defend
King's brands against forthcoming generic threats. Impressed, the board put the incumbent in charge.
The Final Three
Markison sometimes comes off more as court jester than king. He jokes around with his executive team, many of whom he personally
recruited to replace members of the old regime. At five feet seven inches, this 46-year-old with a buzz cut projects a demeanor
more of family man than the man. But his colleagues, who feel free to answer his joking comments with barbs of their own, acknowledge his position—boss
of a $1.77 billion (2005 revenue) public company that was teetering on the edge until he arrived. When the discussion turns
to business, Markison's fellow execs pipe down and let him do the talking. He demonstrates a level of confidence that makes
it obvious why he was chosen to lead a company that, in his own words, "two years ago, was about to become nonexistent."
That's when Mylan Laboratories announced its plan to buy King for $4 billion. Markison, who says he didn't find out that King
was in merger discussions until two weeks after he joined the company, was theoretically in favor of the deal. "I think the
idea"—joining a generic drug maker with strong manufacturing capabilities, with a branded company with expertise in commercial
operations—"was brilliant." Not everyone agreed. The deal unraveled when billionaire investor and Mylan shareholder Carl Icahn
became convinced that, given King's rocky past and imminent struggle against generics, it was not worth the $4 billion Mylan
was offering to pay. And even Markison admits that Mylan was really "not prepared" to take on this kind of transaction. "They
didn't have the right management team," he says.
Making the Cut
Markison knows a thing or two about choosing a management team. When he arrived at King, as he politely puts it, "we invited
people to leave the company, and we invited people to join the company." More specifically, Markison wiped the slate clean
of senior executives who had the old King on their breath. He replaced them with a group that, he says, he would pit against
any team in the industry.