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Robert Ford, who has deep experience with the medical device business at Abbott Laboratories, will become the new CEO of the Illinois-based company in March when Chief Executive Miles White steps down after a 21-year tenure.

Ford may be familiar to some Minnesotans for his work in integrating Little Canada's St. Jude Medical into Abbott following the roughly $25 billion deal in January 2017 that became Abbott's largest corporate acquisition. The deal, aimed at quickly expanding Abbott's catalog of approved and investigational medical technology, made med-tech into Abbott's largest and fastest-growing product division.

"I heard nothing but positive comments, high praise for his acumen and abilities, and to the extent that any acquisition can be smooth and work well, that his execution of that acquisition was done very well," said Shaye Mandle, CEO of the Minnesota health-technology trade group Medical Alley Association.

Ford, 46, had been named Abbott's president and chief operating officer last year. White, 64, will remain executive chairman of the board after the succession on March 31.

The leadership change at Abbott is happening at the same time that med-tech competitor Medtronic is changing its Fridley-based chief executive. Omar Ishrak, who has overseen rapid revenue growth at Medtronic since 2011, will step down as CEO to become executive chairman at Medtronic in April, while insider Geoff Martha will be elevated from product group executive to CEO.

At Abbott, Ford will have his work cut out for him in finding ways to meet the financial example set by White.

Abbott had 57,000 employees and a total market value of $75 billion when White took the reins in 1999. Today, the company employs about 103,000 people and has a market capitalization of more than $148 billion.

In 2004, Abbott spun off a hospital-products business into a stand-alone company called Hospira, which Pfizer later acquired for $17 billion. And in 2013, Abbott separated its high-value research-based drug business into a new company called AbbVie, a publicly traded company that today has a market cap of $128 billion.

Ford has worked at Abbott for 23 years, and came up through a diabetes care division that has become one the company's most successful. A news release from Abbott said Ford oversaw the launch of the Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitor, which surpassed 1.5 million users worldwide this year.

In 2015, Ford was appointed to the job of executive vice president of medical devices, putting him in position to oversee the integration and restructuring of longtime Minnesota pacemaker and heart-valve maker St. Jude Medical.

Stand-alone product divisions from that acquisition that still survive at Abbott today include heart-rhythm devices like pacemakers, neurostimulators to treat pain, electrophysiology devices like heart-ablation catheters, and heart-failure devices.

After the deal, Abbott also created a hybrid-product group for structural heart products, which generated $1.2 billion in revenue and 14% growth last year. Structural heart products include Abbott's successful MitraClip devices for mitral valve repair and St. Jude's Amplatzer line of occlusion devices, along with St. Jude's minimally invasive Portico aortic heart valve.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues to do what Abbott people do best — anticipate where science, medicine and technology are going and innovate to best serve our customers, shareholders and communities," Ford said in Tuesday's announcement.

Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779