Groton — Toni Hoover, who served as the local face of Pfizer Inc. during six tumultuous years as site leader here, plans to leave the pharmaceutical giant in early May, to be replaced by Rod MacKenzie, the company announced Tuesday.
Both MacKenzie and Hoover are senior vice presidents of Pfizer, which has begun focusing on culling management positions as it seeks to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its research budget over the next year.
The company said it will consolidate the two roles into one under the stewardship of MacKenzie, who will retain his current position as chief of the PharmaTherapeutics research group. It's part of a move to integrate site and scientific leadership at Pfizer's research-and-development campuses worldwide, the company said.
"Toni has led the Groton site through multiple changes over the last six years, setting a solid foundation for the new Groton Center for Discovery and Development Sciences, indicating that her work at the site is now complete," Pfizer spokeswoman Lauren Starr said in a statement.
Before Pfizer engaged in a series of acquisitions designed to position it as the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, Pfizer site leaders such as George Milne — the guiding light behind the decision to build the corporation's former R&D headquarters building in New London — had a good deal of power to act independently, former employees said. But as the company became larger and more centralized and the research labs' productivity began slipping, more and more decisions were made in New York City, they added.
Hoover, who succeeded Nancy J. Hutson as Pfizer site leader, soon became something of a figurehead, according to former employees.
But to community leaders, the Essex resident and New Orleans native will be remembered as the face of Pfizer in the region. Hoover is a trustee of the Three Rivers Community College Foundation and a board member of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
"We will miss her intellect, sound reasoning and hard work, but also her warmth and her grace as she embarks on the next phase of an already illustrious career," said Bruce D. Cummings, president and chief executive of L&M.
"I'm sad she's leaving Pfizer," said Tony Sheridan, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. "She has managed the very difficult transition that has occurred there over the past few years very well."
Hoover, a Harvard graduate, came to Groton from Warner-Lambert in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she was worldwide portfolio lead and vice president of global project management, heading a team that developed the pain medication Lyrica.
One of her first major responsibilities locally was to manage the transition of former Warner-Lambert employees to Groton and New London following the announced closure of Pfizer's Ann Arbor site in 2007. Her connections to Ann Arbor and her upbeat personality helped encourage 700 scientists — out of a pool of 1,000 who were asked to relocate — to make the trek to southeastern Connecticut.
By the end of 2007, however, Hoover had to change direction. The company asked her to oversee waves of layoffs and restructurings, including the shutdown of Pfizer's longtime manufacturing plant in Groton, which once employed hundreds.
That same year, The Wall Street Journal named Hoover to its list of 50 Women to Watch, citing her ability to manage change during a year in which Pfizer reduced its work force by about 10,000.
Hoover at the time acknowledged that local scientists were dealing with "change fatigue," including Pfizer's decision to exit several research categories, saying she tried to be transparent while giving people the context in which decisions were being made. As part of her approach, Hoover started holding regular "Tea with Toni" events and was known to give out random hugs in hallways.
Jean Schaefer, a former Pfizer scientist, said she received an invitation to meet with Hoover early in her tenure and at first thought it must have been a mistake. Schaefer remembers Hoover being "everywhere in the community" during her early years in Groton.
"Toni was a fantastic mentor to me," she said.
Hoover also was site leader when Pfizer in 2009 announced layoffs that were expected to affect 500 scientists locally and stated its intention to vacate the company's former worldwide research-and-development headquarters in New London.
The complex, constructed at the prompting of former site leader Milne at a cost of nearly $300 million, was later sold to Electric Boat for $55 million as Pfizer downsized in anticipation of losing patent protection last year on the blockbuster cholesterol pill Lipitor.
Under Hoover's watch, Pfizer also transitioned much of its local information-technology workforce from independent American contractors to Indian-based outsourcing firms that employed a large number of foreign nationals here on H1-B visas, according to an investigation by The Day.
Over the past year, Hoover has been in charge of transitioning drug-discovery scientists out of Groton — with many moving on to the research-rich Boston area — while the local campus turned its attention to the development of new medicines, including setting up and analyzing clinical trials. The redefinition of Groton's role within the Pfizer research universe meant another 1,100 layoffs locally that were to be completed by the end of June, reducing a workforce that once numbered 6,000 to about 3,500.
"She was always up front and forthright," Sheridan, the Chamber president, said of Hoover. "She was always willing to communicate about the changes occurring on campus."
MacKenzie, Hoover's replacement, brings a broad range of experience to his new role. He has done research-and-development work in anti-infectives, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, neuroscience, pain and sensory disorders and regenerative medicine, and has overseen Pfizer's clinical development, pharmaceutical sciences, medicinal chemistry, comparative medicine and other R&D areas.
A Pfizer scientists since 1986, MacKenzie became vice president and head of discovery chemistry in Sandwich, England, in 1999, later holding a series of positions in the United States. He moved to Connecticut after being named in 2007 as head of worldwide research for Pfizer, and took up his current role two years ago.
MacKenzie reports to Mikael Dolsten, president of worldwide research and development for Pfizer.