May 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

Ex-Juul CEO Kevin Burns in talks to join digital pharmacy Alto

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Ex-Juul CEO Kevin Burns is in advanced talks to join SoftBank-backed digital pharmacy Alto, Axios has learned from multiple sources.

Why it matters: He'd be going from a company that was the scourge of public health officials to one that seeks to become an integral part of America's health care delivery system.

Résumé: Burns was a private equity executive with TPG Capital until leaving in 2014 to become president and COO of Greek yogurt company Chobani. He took over e-cigarette maker Juul in late 2017, before stepping down last September.

  • During his time at Juul, the company faced increased regulatory scrutiny and product bans. He also oversaw its sale of a 35% stake for $12.8 billion to Altria, which since has turned into an albatross around Altria's balance sheet.

Alto Pharmacy was founded in 2015 by Matt Gamache-Asselin, and operates as a digital drug distribution platform whose rivals include Amazon's PillPack.

  • It has raised around $350 million in venture capital, from firms like SoftBank Vision Fund, Jackson Square Ventures, Greenoaks Capital Partners, Olive Tree Capital, and Zola Global. The SoftBank investment was tranched-out, with the second piece coming within the past few weeks.
  • Gamache-Asselin and Burns first began talking as part of a COO search, but one of the job titles now being discussed is co-CEO. A formal board vote is likely within days.

The bottom line: Alto is betting that Burns' operational value will outweigh any blowback the decision prompts from customers, partners and employees.

Go deeper: Altria lost $8.6 billion on its Juul investment in just 14 months

Go deeper

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Workers — especially millennials and Gen Zers — are paying close attention to the words and actions of their employers during national crises, such as the protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Why it matters: American companies have an enormous amount of wealth and influence that they can put toward effecting change, and CEOs have the potential to fill the leadership vacuum left by government inaction. More and more rank-and-file employees expect their bosses to do something with that money and power.