After months of speculation, Walgreen announced on Wednesday that it will not pursue a tax avoidance strategy known as “inversion.” Activist investors had urged the company to shift its tax domicile to Switzerland as part of a $15 billion deal to acquire the remaining 55 percent of Alliance Boots it doesn’t own.
Walgreen cited IRS scrutiny, mounting political pressure and a “potential consumer backlash” among the factors informing their decision, and announced that the new holding company created by the acquisition, Walgreen Boots Alliance, would be based in the Chicago area.
In the lead-up to this announcement, Change to Win helped bring the company and the inversion issue into spotlight for consumers and elected leaders. Over 300,000 consumers reportedly signed various petitions calling on the company to stay put, activists held rallies outside Walgreen’s flagship stores in Chicago, and members of Congress sought to make the company a poster child for inversion. President Obama called companies considering inversions “corporate deserters,” and his administration began looking at ways it could act alone to stop inversions.
While some are delighted in the wake of Walgreen’s apparent change of heart, others are asking why inversion was on the table in the first place.
“This has been an unnecessarily drawn-out and secretive process to arrive where Walgreens should have been from the start,” said Nell Geiser, Associate Director of Change to Win Retail Initiatives in a statement. “The question remains, in this transformational moment with turmoil in the company’s leadership, is Walgreens doing what’s best for its long-term stakeholders or is it unduly influenced by banks, hedge funds and its international partner.”
What does the future hold for Walgreen? We will continue to examine the Alliance Boots acquisition in coming months as shareholders prepare for a vote.