Wanted: New CFOs for Merck, AOL

A sign of the times? After 17 years as CFO, Judy Lewent retires. After 4 years as finance chief, Stephen Swad heads to a private equity firm.
Sarah JohnsonFebruary 20, 2007

Judy Lewent, 58, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Merck & Co., will retire in July, after spending 27 years with the company, 17 of which she was financial chief. Lewent was once considered a strong candidate for becoming chief executive of the pharmaceutical company. Announced soon after the long holiday weekend ended, Lewent’s resignation marks the second big-name CFO to leave their jobs in recent days. Stephen Swad, finance chief of AOL, is also reportedly leaving his company.

Nearly seven years ago,

In 2000, CFO magazine recognized Lewent for her efforts related to Merck’s revenue growth. Her boss at the time, Merck’s former chairman and CEO Raymond Gilmartin, as well as investment bankers praised her work as being essential to the company, and considered Lewent someone who wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge. She is widely known to have mastered modeling techniques, such as the Monte Carlo simulation. Lewent has also been recognized as being influential in raising the profile of the chief finance officer from top accountant to strategic business partner, and for earning one of the highest paid CFO salaries earlier in the decade.

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In the press release announcing Lewent’s retirement, Merck’s current CEO and president Richard Clark called her a “world-class” CFO. “Her business and financial acumen, keen strategic thinking, and analytical skills have made her an invaluable adviser and colleague,” he added.

Lewent joined Merck in 1980 after serving as a controller at Pfizer. In addition to the CFO title, she has filled the roles of treasurer and vice president of finance.

During her tenure at Merck, she developed models and techniques for evaluating the company’s R&D investment. She also contributed to Merck’s corporate development and licensing functions. According to the company, she has been a “major contributor” to Merck’s new corporate strategy, and she led the negotiation and execution of several key alliances and acquisitions, as well as chaired the governing board of several joint ventures.

“We have maintained our financial strength through the inevitable cycles of challenge and success that characterize the pharmaceutical industry,” Lewent said in a press release. “I am proud to have played a role in helping to position the [c]ompany for long-term growth. Merck said it is searching for Lewent’s replacement.

In other CFO career news, Swad is leaving AOL to join a private-equity firm, according to the Associated Press, citing an internal memo released by the Internet company’s CEO on Friday. AOL did not return’s request for comment. Swad, 45, will stay with AOL until a successor is named, according to the memo.

Swad had been vice president of finance and administration at Turner Broadcasting System when he was tapped to become CFO of AOL in 2003. He replaced Joseph Ripp, who had been promoted to vice chairman of AOL-Time Warner. He joined Time Warner in 1998 as vice president and deputy controller. His résumé also includes time at the Securities and Exchange Commission as a deputy chief accountant.