What's in a Name Change? A New Image, ICN Hopes

Times Staff Writer

ICN Pharmaceuticals' mission was to come up with a name that had panache -- but not Panic.

Three months and $1 million later, executives have settled on Valeant Pharmaceuticals International. The appellation, which will be unveiled today, will help distance the Costa Mesa company from its checkered past and flamboyant founder, Milan Panic, while conveying a renewed sense of "values" and "vitality," said Timothy Tyson, president and chief operating officer.

It wasn't easy finding one word to do all that. The company would have liked "valiant," which means noble and brave, but had to reject that spelling so the company would avoid a copyright nightmare, Tyson explained. Over the years, the adjective has been used to sell items from punk records to table wine and is still associated in some circles with a defunct car brand and a comic strip character with a quirky haircut.

ICN's association problems are with Panic (pronounced PAH-neesh), a former prime minister of Yugoslavia and a colorful entrepreneur who started the company in a Los Angeles garage in 1959.

Critics said he was as successful in running afoul of federal regulators and provoking sexual harassment lawsuits as he was at heading ICN. Panic resigned in June 2002 after dissident shareholders took over the board.

Tyson described the restructured company, with new management and a new board, as a lean operation. Its staff of 12,000 has been trimmed to 5,000 and its 33 factories are being pared to five. Tyson said Valeant's emphasis would be on new drug development.

The stock has regained some of its luster since hitting a low of $7.15 in October 2002, closing Tuesday at $23.67 on the New York Stock Exchange. Starting Friday, the company's ticker symbol will be VRX.

Experts tend to agree that a name change is essential for a company looking to reinvent itself. And the choice made by the old ICN, with an assist from a consultant, wins high marks on the linguistics scale.

"It's easy to express, has momentum and it's celebratory," said Noah Manduke, Los Angeles-based managing director of Siegel & Gale, a strategic branding firm.

The spelling of Valeant -- whose logo will be a stylistic purple-and-gray "V" -- may present a challenge. People may write it as it's pronounced and "get it wrong," said Julie Cottineau, managing director for naming for Interbrand, a New York consulting firm.

ICN, by the way, is an acronym for International Chemical and Nuclear Corp., and it had a logo that most pharmaceutical companies probably would abhor. "It was," Tyson noted, "the international symbol for nuclear hazard."

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