Focus on Alcon’s financial advisers

Those with blurred vision can see plenty of parallels between Roche’s takeover of Genentech last year, and the on-going Novartis acquisition of Alcon, the eyecare company. A tighter focus highlights some intriguing differences.

Both purchasers are pharmaceutical groups keen to expand their businesses. Both are also based in Switzerland, while their targets are largely in the US. Both deals involve minority shareholders complaining they are being bought out too cheaply.

There again,  Genentech was firmly anchored in the US. Alcon, despite historical roots in Texas and a New York quote, is legally a Swiss company, allowing Novartis to claim it has far greater rights to push through a deal regardless of minorities’ objections.

Still, there is one common link of sorts. Roche’s investment banking adviser on Genentech was the secretive US boutique Greenhill. And who has now emerged as adviser to the independent directors of Alcon?

Presumbly the competition between the two Swiss rivals would have made the bank’s likelihood of working for both predators small. But at least it has now been able to gain experience in minority shareholder disputes from both sides of a “big pharma” takeover – and both shores of the Atlantic.

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Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog: www.margaretmccartney.com/blog

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Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow

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