Omar Ishrak is trying to keep his eye on the ball. At LifeScience Alley’s yearly convention in Minneapolis, the Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) chairman & CEO used a keynote Q & A interview to reinforce his commitment to maintaining his company’s reputation for quality and innovation.
At the event yesterday, LifeScience Alley president & CEO Shaye Mandle led Ishrak through some fairly gentle questioning about value-based healthcare and Medtronic’s history, before getting down to the issue that created a firestorm for the Minneapolis-based company this year: Medtronic’s proposed $43 billion acquisition of Covidien (NYSE:COV).
The deal, announced in June, would see Medtronic claim Ireland as its headquarters for tax purposes, while keeping its operational headquarters in Minnesota. Under the original agreement, Medtronic would save an estimated $4 billion in taxes with the change.
The company’s announcement generated national headlines about tax shelters and corporate responsibility, even prompting the U.S. Treasury Dept. to issue new rules on similar overseas deals. In August, Medtronic announced it was restructuring the deal to allow it to go ahead without using some $13.5 billion in overseas cash.
Asked about the acquisition, Ishrak insisted that the deal is a step forward for Medtronic and would create U.S jobs in the long run.
"We are very excited about what we’re seeing," he said. "We’re satisfied it’s a good deal."
Ishrak described the timeline of the transaction, saying it came together relatively quickly, in about 3 months. The 2 principles he insisted on were that the deal would further the mission of Medtronic and that Medtronic would remain the name of the company.
"Those agreements were made right upfront," Ishrak said.
The inversion structure was discussed later in the timeline, he noted, and as the 2 sides were exploring the finances, they decided inversion made the most sense.
"What we get from the inversion is access to the cash that’s been generated by the legacy Covidien entities. Not the cash from Medtronic entities," he said. "Inverting the company only made sense, because if you didn’t, you would destroy the value of Covidien."
Ishrak said that the negative reaction in the press was made worse by other tax inversion deals announced around the same time.
"We knew this was going to be controversial to some degree," he said. "What we weren’t prepared for was the whole variety of different deals that happened following ours. They all had their own circumstances and they weren’t all like ours."
Medtronic is weathering the storm by being transparent and explaining why the Covidien deal is good for the U.S. in general, according to Ishrak.
"We felt we would just tell the story, which is the truth. Here are the benefits … this is what we get out of the inversion, this is what we don’t get out of the inversion," he said. "We made the commitment that we would reinvest this money back into the U.S."
Medtronic has said it will create 1,000 jobs in Minnesota and invest $10 billion in the U.S. in the aftermath of the deal. Ishrak said Medtronic’s track record of creating U.S jobs should be proof enough of its commitment.
"We have a history in investing in early-stage companies, whose technologies we’ve made the standards of care," he noted. "We’ve invested in those companies by enhancing their technology and making them more robust, and then creating markets around them.
"What was limiting us was that more than 50% of our cash was being generated outside the U.S.," Ishrak said. "And if we brought it back, the penalty that we pay in taxes would be so high that our ability to make those investments was constrained. By doing this, those constraints are significantly reduced. And because they are reduced, we can make these investments in a more flexible fashion than we did before."
The interview wrapped up with talk about what Ishrak does to unwind and his prolific use of Twitter. Mandle jokingly asked how many people Ishrak had to hire to generate his the Twitter content. The Medtronic CEO said the tweets are largely his own.
"It is something, frankly, that I enjoy," he said. "I can’t afford to be cavalier so I do have them double-checked before I send them out, but beyond that, those are my tweets."
Twitter is useful because it gives Ishrak news and input from a variety of sources, including his own employees, he said.
"You find out what people are talking about," he said. "I think it’s a very effective way to stay in touch. And it’s fun."