Long-time Indianapolis business leader Jim Cornelius jumped from one daunting challenge to another in 2006.
He started the year as chairman and CEO of Guidant Corp., as it weighed a possible sale to either New Jer
sey-based Johnson & Johnson or Massachusetts-based Boston Scientific Corp.
After Boston Scientific won, Cornelius became acting CEO of New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in September.
Cornelius stayed with Guidant from start to finish. He left his position as chief financial officer at Eli Lilly and Co. in 1994 to become chairman of the Lilly spinoff.
He joined a company rebounding from regulatory problems that had prompted the Food and Drug Administration to temporarily shutter one division.
Regulatory and product-liability problems continued to plague Guidant in recent years, even as it became a world leader in the development of defibrillators, pagersized devices that correct heartbeats.
Cornelius took over as Guidant CEO in November 2005, then shepherded the Indianapolis-based medical device maker through the negotiations that followed.
During that span, the company was buffeted by recalls and product defects.
Even so, Boston Scientific agreed to pay $27 billion, or $80 a share. That represented a return of more than 2,000 percent for investors in the company’s 1994 initial public offering.
Cornelius, 62, said in a statement provided by Bristol-Myers that the competing offers to buy Guidant proved to be “the most challenging thing I’ve ever faced.
“It was extraordinary-the deal almost fell apart, and it came back together,” he said. “Even under all that pressure, it really didn’t affect our decision-making.
“We did absolutely the right thing for the shareholders and the employees.”
Fresh challenges await at Bristol-Myers. Cornelius, a Bristol-Myers board member, replaced Peter Dolan, who was dismissed after a series of problems, including a bungled attempt to keep a generic version of the company’s blockbuster blood thinner Plavix off the market.
The company’s shares trade for about $26, less than half the price they fetched five years ago.
Yet Cornelius, who is not a candidate to be the permanent replacement, is optimistic about the company’s future, citing its product pipeline and employees.
“That’s a potent combination, new products plus a great workforce,” he said in the company statement.