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“An existential angst grips Chicago business”

Monday, May 12, 2014

* Joe Cahill at Crain’s writes “I’ve been following Chicago business for more than 30 years, and I can’t recall a time when so many of our big companies were in such a state of flux.” A few examples

Walgreen’s deal with Europe’s Alliance Boots brought in a major wild card—Alliance Boots GmbH Chairman Stefano Pessina, now the company’s largest single shareholder—and sparked pressure to move its corporate headquarters to Europe.

United management underestimated the challenge of rationalizing the enormous airline it created by merging United and Continental. Poor first-quarter results all but ensure another round of disruptive cutbacks.

Caterpillar, similarly, is trying to right itself after the spectacularly ill-timed $7.6 billion acquisition of Bucyrus International Inc. Cat’s biggest deal ever dramatically increased its exposure to mining equipment just as the industry nose-dived. Sales have plummeted, forcing Cat to eliminate more than 9,000 jobs.

* I hadn’t really been following the Walgreen’s saga until I spoke with a company representative the other day. I was pretty shocked that the possibility of Walgreen’s moving its headquarters to Switzerland is quite real. The company could save huge money

According to an analysis by UBS, Walgreen’s U.S. [effective] tax rate is 37.5% — compared with Alliance Boots’ rate in Europe of about 20%.

The state can’t do much about that. If it wants to go, it’ll go.

It’s not an unusual thing

Aon Corp., one of Chicago’s most prominent businesses, shifted its corporate home to London in 2012. Last month, Deerfield-based Horizon Pharma Inc. said it would move its headquarters to Ireland as part of a merger.

And not just locally

Michigan’s Perrigo, Pennsylvania’s Endo Health Solutions and New Jersey’s Actavis moved their headquarters to Ireland last year following merger deals. Connecticut’s Alexion Pharmaceuticals moved some of its intellectual property there, as well, to cut taxes.

* Back to Walgreen’s, which was founded in Illinois over one hundred years ago

Mr. Pessina, a billionaire who resides in Monaco, turned his family’s struggling Naples pharmaceutical wholesaler into the heavyweight Alliance UniChem Group. In 2006, he merged it with U.K. pharmacy chain Boots Group to create Alliance Boots. A year later, the company was taken private in a $22 billion deal that remains Europe’s largest leveraged buyout. The deal was financed by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., the storied private-equity firm that inspired “Barbarians at the Gate,” a book about the tumultuous 1988 takeover of RJR Nabisco Inc.

“When Walgreens talks about the best interests of their shareholders, they’re talking about Stefano Pessina,” Mr. Fein says. “I don’t know if Walgreens did or did not anticipate his influence, but they’ve negotiated a transaction with one of the most sophisticated and respected businessmen in the world.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        


43 Comments
  1. - Liberty First - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:24 am:

    1980s all over.


  2. - William j Kelly - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:27 am:

    I am sure Rahm’s billionaires will be just fine wherever in the world they setup their new bank account.. I mean corporate headquarters …… . I mean residency… It’s the real people of Chicago that I am worried about. Especially city workers police, fire and teachers.


  3. - 47th Ward - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:30 am:

    Ireland. Highly educated and young workforce that speaks English. 10% corporate tax rate. The food is getting better too. Other than the almost daily rain, what’s not to love?

    And the Guinness in Ireland tastes like Heaven.


  4. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:36 am:

    Walgreen’s is definitely going through some changes, and the Boots deal is the biggest one. It’s been very lucrative, as Walgreen’s stock price has nearly doubled over the last two years.

    The company had never had any international holdings before Boots. And there no longer is a member of the Walgreens family in management or on the board.

    Pessina now holds 8% of the company. If, as expected, Walgreens exercises its option next year to take majority ownership of Boots, Pessina’s stake will be 16%.

    If you control 16% of a publicly traded company, you call the shots.

    What a tax move would mean for the the corporate jobs in Deerfield is unknown. Aon’s job count in downtown Chicago was largely unchanged by its tax move.

    And Walgreen’s still runs 8,000 U.S. stores out of Deerfield.

    Crain’s is at least making some sense with this story. Not like the crazy, unsourced story they ran last week that Walgreens hq was moving from Deerfield to the old post office downtown.


  5. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:37 am:

    47, Pessina is pushing for Switzerland.


  6. - fed up - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:38 am:

    Well, the federal corporate tax has become a huge problem, but its better politics to villify big buisness and chase them away as you grovel for the votes of the unemployed.


  7. - The Whole Truth - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:41 am:

    The bottom line is what determines the course of action Walgreens and any and every other company and individual has to take. Tax burden is obviously a big factor, though not the only one. However, if one needs proof that business climate can make or break a county, city, state, or even a country,take note.


  8. - 47th Ward - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:43 am:

    No kidding Word. I can read. There are about four other companies mentioned above that are moving/moved to Ireland. I’m Irish. This caught my attention.

    Ireland took it on the chin when its government foolishly guaranteed that it would back the Irish banks. But now they’re out of the IMF and EU bailout and despite the housing collapse, the fundamentals of the Irish economy were always strong.

    The rest of the EU is upset that Ireland maintains its 10% corporate tax rate. It’s sort of like Indiana poaching jobs from Illinois, except on a national scale. Like water finding its level, corporations will find the lowest tax environment to operate in.

    If you think competition between US states to steal business was tough in the past decade, wait until this global competition begins in earnest.


  9. - Grandson of Man - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:47 am:

    The American corporate income tax rate is among the highest in the world. The effective rate, though, is generally much lower. I’m not sure why Walgreens would pay such a high effective rate. Does it have few or no exemptions that would lower its effective rate?

    It might be time to make our corporate tax rates competitive to other countries by lowering them and getting rid of some exemptions and loopholes. I would support that.

    By the way, the European countries to which the corporations are moving have universal healthcare.


  10. - Walter Mitty - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:47 am:

    At least last week…We only lamented the individuals and small businesses leaving… This would be ….Not good.


  11. - Objectively speaking - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:50 am:

    Inevitably this will mean the Illinois citizenry will have to pay more taxes…Cool!


  12. - OldSmoky2 - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:53 am:

    This all just highlights how comparing tax rates is really complicated because the super-rich hire enough accountants, lawyers, and lobbyists to rig the game to their advantage. So Mr. Pessina no doubt will figure out a way to come out ahead in this game. He can put Walgreens HQ in Switzerland and save corporate taxes, then run his own income through Monaco, where individual residents pay no income tax. Sweet deal if you’re rich enough to take advantage of it. But the average Swiss citizen is not so lucky. According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, 29.4 percent of Switzerland’s GDP goes to pay taxes there (and in Ireland it’s even higher at 30.8 percent). In the U.S., by contrast, total tax revenue (at all levels) takes in 26.9 percent of GDP. In most European countries, the rates are much higher than that. It’s not about how high or low a single type of tax is, such as corporate tax or individual income tax; it’s about who pays and who has the resources to avoid paying.


  13. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:56 am:

    CAT had some bad luck in China last year, getting hoodwinked on a big acquisition, costing them $580 million.

    No rule of law, no way to get your money back.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/19/us-caterpillar-siwei-idUSBRE90H1C520130119


  14. - x ace - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:01 pm:

    Maybe need to invade Switzerland , Monaco , and Ireland too. (Could be victories bigger than Grenada )


  15. - Cassandra - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:04 pm:

    The Walgreens matter absolutely has nothing to do with Illinois, so let’s hope Quinn and the Democrats don’t leap up and offer Walgreens some huge tax break (while raising individual taxes even further than they already have) so they can pretend they are doing something to counter potential job loss. Rauner either for that matter.


  16. - The Doc - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:04 pm:

    While not questioning the notion that a move overseas would reduce its tax burden, I’m struggling to understand how Walgreens’ effective rate could be so high.

    http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/effective-corporate-tax-rates/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0


  17. - Anon - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:09 pm:

    It’s instructive to see that corporate moves are not to a GOP-run state like Indiana or Wisconsin, but to Europe. Our conservative friends will have more trouble blaming IL Dems.


  18. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:12 pm:

    –The Walgreens matter absolutely has nothing to do with Illinois, so let’s hope Quinn and the Democrats don’t leap up and offer Walgreens some huge tax break–

    Too late, lol (not a tax break, but a ton of money).

    Walgreens has been very aggressively renovating its corporate properties on Wilmot and Lake-Cook roads in Deerfield.

    http://www.illinois.gov/dceo/Media/PressReleases/Pages/pr08032012.aspx


  19. - A guy... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:14 pm:

    All this happens as Pat Quinn quips with Rick Perry. We’re noncompetitive on every level. It is time for a State Chief Executive with Corporate Executive experience. We don’t have the soldiers to fight this battle. Our arsenal is 100% legislative. It’s defensive. To prosper, we need to go on offense very soon.


  20. - Precinct Captain - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:26 pm:

    ==Well, the federal corporate tax has become a huge problem, but its better politics to villify big buisness and chase them away as you grovel for the votes of the unemployed.==

    When unemployment is high, turnout is higher according to recent research. The research of at least one scholar shows that the unemployed are more likely to vote, but only when the unemployment rate is higher, in which case people in the employed group have higher turnout as well. Overall though, the unemployed vote at a far lower rate versus employed people, so the idea that politicians are groveling for votes of unemployed people is complete nonsense and basically a fiction.

    http://users.polisci.wisc.edu/behavior/Papers/Burden&Wichowsky2012.pdf
    http://themonkeycage.org/2012/11/02/does-unemployment-make-people-more-likely-to-vote/


  21. - Precinct Captain - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:28 pm:

    Here are two more pieces:
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/07/research_desk_responds_how_doe_1.html
    http://mathewscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Voting-amongst-the-unemployed.pdf


  22. - Precinct Captain - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:37 pm:

    Anyway, to the post itself, I’d say that 2 of the 3 examples (Caterpillar and United) are examples of a bad business climate driven by bad business decisions, not public policy. Who said Cat and United had to make stupid mergers?

    Walgreens leaving would be sad, but it’s much more an issue of national rates than it is anything having to do with Illinois other than we’d be left holding the bag of the unemployed. One issue as it relates to Walgreens though is whether the new large shareholder in Walgreens (led by Stefano Pessina) is wanting to move Walgreens to Europe because of taxes or because he wants company HQ closer to him. We saw what happened with the ADM move to Chicago. They whined for tax breaks and moved anyway because it was the executives wanted anyway. A tax issue for Walgreens may just be a convenient red herring to mask the personal preferences of Pessina.


  23. - W - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:47 pm:

    Any company stupid enough to think now is a good time to invest more heavily in coal mining equipment has no place blaming taxes for their troubles. Caterpillar gets more than generous exemptions and subsidies to offset their tax liability.


  24. - Bemused - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:51 pm:

    Where does CVS have their Corporate HQ?


  25. - The Prince - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:53 pm:

    Woonsocket, Mass. I think, for now.


  26. - NW Illinois Dem - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:00 pm:

    WDDPHTS

    What does Donavan Pepper have to say?


  27. - Anonymous - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    =Aon’s job count in downtown Chicago was largely unchanged by its tax move.=

    Compared to when? And have you ever talked to any insiders there? They’ll tell you the exact opposite.


  28. - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:05 pm:

    ==It is time for a State Chief Executive with Corporate Executive experience==

    I don’t want somebody with no government experience who understands absolutely nothing about how government works.


  29. - Anonymous - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:06 pm:

    I’ve often wondered how many of this generation’s pols and recent CEOs who tout dual-citizenship with Ireland will become ex-pats once they retire.


  30. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:08 pm:

    –Aon said Chicago will remain its headquarters for the Americas and the move won’t result in job loss in the United States. In fact, the company says it will add 750 jobs to its offices at the Aon Center in the East Loop, the spokesman said. Those jobs will be a combination of new positions and transfers from elsewhere in the U.S., he said.
    The 750 downtown jobs will come from several areas, including north suburban Lincolnshire, where Aon has a big presence, the spokesman confirmed. –


  31. - Anonymous - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:13 pm:

    Oh, a spokesperson for the company was talking about this morning’s numbers and comparing them to this afternoon’s numbers.


  32. - Walter Mitty - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:17 pm:

    - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:05 pm:
    ==It is time for a State Chief Executive with Corporate Executive experience==
    I don’t want somebody with no government experience who understands absolutely nothing about how government works.

    I agree because the current way is working oh so well….


  33. - CollegeStudent - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:46 pm:

    ===It is time for a State Chief Executive with Corporate Executive experience. ===

    Not until every economic indicator is at its pre-2008 levels.


  34. - A guy... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:01 pm:

    ++++ Walter Mitty - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:17 pm:

    - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 1:05 pm:
    ==It is time for a State Chief Executive with Corporate Executive experience==
    I don’t want somebody with no government experience who understands absolutely nothing about how government works.

    I agree because the current way is working oh so well….++++

    Truly Demo, we need someone who doesn’t understand or tolerate how “Illinois Government works” Because it doesn’t. It has reached the convoluted stage. Management/Labor isn’t just a public work issue. In fact, it’s well within the domain of private business who, by and large, have dealt with it much better. Government serves as a fairy Godmother in the private scenario. In the public realm, the Government is the mother. I have absolutely no idea how any sane person could conclude they’re better off with Pat Quinn. He’s demonstrated over and over that he’ll take your money and support without anything in return. He doesn’t understand economics or the work force. He never will. He’s never signed the front of a business check. It’s Stockholm Syndrome with this chap.


  35. - oz - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:02 pm:

    Since the Supreme court determined that Corporations are people when it comes to campaign contributions. US citizens should consider who the foreign shareholders of these companies are — and are therefore in control of Washington, Springfield and Chicago for example.

    Motorola Mobility was sold to china,,think about that when the lobbyist flood the campaign was chest.


  36. - Demoralized - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 3:59 pm:

    ==Truly Demo, we need someone who doesn’t understand or tolerate how “Illinois Government works”==

    Then that person won’t be successful because no matter how much you hate the beast you still have to work within the confines of what the beast allows. I’ve found that business types that come in are usually unsuccessful because they can’t seem to adapt to how things have to get done in government. While they may have good ideas they can’t implement them because they don’t know how to work the system. If Rauner wants to surround himself with people who know the system then maybe he will be successful. It he brings in a bunch of outsider business-types then he’s doomed to failure.

    I don’t like Pat Quinn. I don’t like Bruce Rauner. I’d rather choose nobody.


  37. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:09 pm:

    ==Truly Demo, we need someone who doesn’t understand or tolerate how “Illinois Government works”==

    You can’t mean Rauner. It’s worked well for him, after some heavy investments in politicians. He’s a player’s player.

    C’mon, man, he had Stu Levine on the payroll when he was pitching him pension business, then goes into a Sgt Schultz explanation years after the fact.

    How could anyone from Illinois believe that? Even for Illinois, that’s outrageous.


  38. - Oswego Willy - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 4:16 pm:

    ===Truly Demo, we need someone who doesn’t understand or tolerate how “Illinois Government works”===

    And “that” is what makes you a Raunerbot.

    Geez, Louise, the hidden Rauner gamed the system, and the “Bruce Rauner” pretending to be an outsider forgets all his insider dealings.

    “Bruce Rauner” is being sold as true and you bought it. Trying to sell that here is Folly.


  39. - park - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:23 pm:

    I didn’t vote for Rauner (probably will in November), but how can someone seriously argue that he doesn’t have a better understanding of business, business decision making, CEO’s, or the global economy than any other politician running this fall? And I mean for any statewide office.


  40. - Oswego Willy - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 5:31 pm:

    - park -,

    Running a business and running a state are not the same.

    Hit the search key. Way different animals. CEO of a company versus Co-Equal partner in 3 branches of government is starkly different.


  41. - Precinct Captain - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 7:37 pm:

    ==but how can someone seriously argue that he doesn’t have a better understanding of business, business decision making, CEO’s, or the global economy than any other politician running this fall?==

    I’ll argue he doesn’t because he’s “a salesman,” not an “analyst.”

    http://politics.suntimes.com/article/springfield/gop-race-governor-bruce-rauner-profile/fri-03072014-906pm


  42. - Captain America - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:18 pm:

    As smart companies leave Illinois, it means things will get far worse for the rest of us. Less taxpayers to pay the massive bills piled up by Madigan/Daley regimes. And, the independent thinkers leaving will mean less independent voters to get rid of the political mafia that has ruined Illinois.


  43. - Anonymous - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:32 pm:

    = If Rauner wants to surround himself with people who know the system then maybe he will be successful. It he brings in a bunch of outsider business-types then he’s doomed to failure.=

    And there are several other scenarios that apply. The biggest one that pops into mind is that he can bring in a bunch of business people to analyze how the system “works,” identify stakeholders, applicable constraints (legislative, political, etc.), identify solutions, determine feasibility, and the prioritize for planning and execution.

    It’s always the objectives, of course, in which most stakeholders are most interested. And voters are very clearly stakeholders who’d like to understand the objectives a candidate has.


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