Our Third Nominee for CEO of the Year: Jack Lief

My praise and contempt for CEO actions is pretty well known around these parts. I've been running a weekly series looking at CEO gaffes for nearly nine months now (with seemingly endless material, may I add), and recently I've begun highlighting incredible CEOs who deserve a pat on the back. Last year I even listed my top 10 CEOs of the year and my 10 worst CEOs of the year.

However, this year we're changing things up a bit, and we're putting the ball in your court! This year, The Motley Fool community is going to decide who the best CEO of the year is, and which CEO should be banished to a distant island.

Each week, over the remaining six weeks, I'm going to highlight one CEO who's worthy of being the best CEO of 2012, as well as a CEO who could easily be called the worst of 2012. In total, you and your community members will have eight great CEOs and eight terrible ones to choose from when voting commences in November. For reference, here is last week's best CEO nominee.


In the meantime, I encourage you to get the discussion started on the CEO of the Week board. Although I do have all CEOs hand-picked already, these selections are by no means set in stone. If you can offer me your top picks for best and worst CEO, as well as your reasoning, you may just find your nomination in the spotlight.

Without further ado, I give you the third nominee for CEO of the Year: Jack Lief, CEO of Arena Pharmaceuticals (NAS: ARNA) .

Why Jack Lief?

  • He delivered when others couldn't: This one isn't rocket science. Jack Lief and Arena Pharmaceuticals brought the first anti-obesity drug to market in 13 years with the approval of Belviq in late June. Previous to Belviq, the only semi-recent FDA-approved treatment on the market was a drug co-marketed by Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, (NYS: GSK) known as Xenical in Europe and Alli in the United States. Unfortunately for users, safety concerns in recent years have plagued Xenical/Alli. Orexigen Therapeutics (NAS: OREX) , another peer of Arena, is still in the mid-stage of clinical trials for Contrave, so commercialization for it is still likely two or more years away. Only VIVUS' (NAS: VVUS) Qsymia -- which was approved just weeks after Belviq -- stands in Arena's way, and even it was in line to beat Belviq to FDA approval and failed. Simply put, Arena delivered first before anyone else.
  • Stock performance: If you were thinking that a CEO who delivered a year-to-date return of 345% in his company's stock price through the end of last week deserves a mention in the CEO of the Year running, then you'd be correct. As far as I can tell, year-to-date Arena has been the top performing mid- or large-cap company, period -- rising more than even Pharmacyclics, (NAS: PCYC) which is up 335% following favorable mid-stage results of its BTK-inhibitor, Ibrutinib. Being a CEO of the Year isn't about just stock performance, but I doubt Arena's shareholders are complaining much.
  • He wasn't afraid to partner up: There's absolutely nothing wrong with going it alone, but sometimes it takes a bigger person to admit they need help. Arena very well could have brought Belviq to market by itself without the help of anyone else, but Lief instead chose to partner up his company with Japan's Eisai in 2011 to better set his company up for success. Not only will that decision allow Eisai to utilize its premier marketing team to help market Belviq, but Eisai is also responsible for covering the remaining costs of six post-approval safety trials recommended by the FDA. Sure, Arena may have to share some of the costs of its blockbuster anti-obesity treatment, but unlike VIVUS, it won't have to fret about any further out-of-pocket safety trial costs and has far less to worry about with regard to marketing its drug.
  • He put Arena in line for international approval: In addition to gaining approval within the United States, Lief has put Arena in line to be the only anti-obesity drug approved in select European countries. VIVUS stated recently that it feels an EU approval for Qsymia appears unlikely at the moment which should open the door for Belviq to take market share. Although Europe's share of obese people isn't anywhere near as impressive as the U.S., it's nonetheless another chunk of pie that Arena looks set to take from VIVUS' grasps.

Is Jack Lief the CEO of the year? That's going to be up to you and the rest of The Motley Fool community to decide. In the meantime, come back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next six weeks for the latest CEO nominations, and be sure to hit up the CEO of the Week board to voice your opinion to the community.

Does Arena's blockbuster Belviq really have an edge over VIVUS' Qsymia? Find out by getting your copy of our latest premium research report on Arena Pharmaceuticals. Crammed with in-depth and unbiased analysis on the opportunities and threats facing Arena - and complete with a year of regular updates - this report will give you the tools needed to make smart long-term investing decisions. Click here to claim your investing edge!

The article Our Third Nominee for CEO of the Year: Jack Lief originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He loves giving credit when credit is due. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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