Abbott CEO Miles White to step down next year

(Reuters) - Abbott Laboratories ABT.N longtime Chief Executive Officer Miles White will step down in favor of his chief of operations in March, handing over the reins after successfully reshaping the healthcare conglomerate in a series of transformative deals.

White, 64, will remain the executive chairman and will be succeeded by Chief Operating Officer Robert Ford, who he appointed last year as part of succession planning.

Abbott’s shares have gained more than four-fold during White’s more than two decades at the helm. They were marginally lower in early trading e following the company’s statement on Wednesday.

“While Miles White was at times considered a larger-than-life figure at Abbott, we think Bob Ford is the right person to fill Miles’ shoes,” Evercore ISI analyst Vijay Kumar said in a client note.

White, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, was instrumental in Abbott's acquisitions of rivals St. Jude Medical and Alere, as well as the spinoffs of Abbott's pharmaceutical arm into AbbVie Inc ABBV.N in 2013 and of Hospira earlier in 2004. Hospira was bought by Pfizer Inc PFE.N in 2015.

He also spearheaded the purchase of BASF’s Knoll pharmaceutical business in 2001 that also brought with it the world’s best-selling drug, Humira. Humira is now owned by AbbVie.

White also serves on the boards of McDonald's Corp MCD.N and Caterpillar Inc CAT.N.

Ford has been with the company for 23 years and had headed Abbott’s medical devices unit. He is a key person behind the company’s FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring device, its fastest growing diabetes product, according to analyst Kumar.

Abbott is betting on the device, which helps diabetics track blood sugar levels without having to prick their fingers, to cushion slowing growth in some of its older products.

White’s total compensation, including stock awards, was $24.3 million last year.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Sriraj Kalluvila