March 3, 2016 – It is one of the biggest search assignments in British business this year: Egon Zehnder and Korn Ferry have been tapped by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to lead its search for a new chief executive officer. Current CEO, Andrew Witty, plans to step down from his position in 2017.
Mr. Witty, a 31-year company veteran who has been CEO since 2008, has been under fire from investor groups over the past three years as sales and profits at the pharmaceutical giant have flagged. Headquartered in the U.K., GSK is one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies.
Egon Zehnder and Korn Ferry are currently drawing up a list of potential candidates, both from within the company and outside of it, as well as candidates from within the pharma industry itself.
According to sources, likely inside candidates could include GSK’s global pharmaceuticals head, Abbas Hussain, and leader of its consumer division, Emma Walmsley. Finance chiefs have also seen their competencies tapped for chief executive roles recently; therefore GSK CFO Simon Dingemans, a former Goldman Sachs banker, has been mentioned by recruiters unrelated to the search as a potentially strong candidate.
Externally, GSK might try to snag a senior figure from a rival drugmaker, such as Novartis, say recruiters, or the company might look well beyond the drugs sector to an executive with broader experience in consumer products and a global vision.
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Simon Bartholomew, a London-based partner with Catalyst Advisors, a search firm focused on finding C-suite leaders and top board directors for biopharma companies, said: “Critically, GSK needs a leader with a clear strategy to return the company to the leading position it once held in Europe.”
Mr. Bartholomew said that while there are many highly talented GSK insiders who could theoretically take the helm, a number of them could be unmotivated to take the job on. “Senior leaders at GSK have lost faith in the organization and, more importantly, in its direction. So whoever the next CEO is, he or she will need to reinvigorate the team and stop the attrition.”
Mr. Bartholomew said his understanding is that the company is looking at industry insiders and outsiders. “Personally, I believe they need someone from the industry rather than outside of it,” he said. “With the possible exception of GSK’s HIV franchise, the company has lost its way scientifically,” he added, and that makes industry insiders the preferred candidate route. “Success in this search is critical for the U.K. and for Europe,” he said.
Other specialist C-level recruiters based in London and New York said that tapping a top-drawer CFO would give GSK ‘operational knowledge’ and a unique vantage point to see the entire organization ‘from the 10,000 foot level.’ Someone strategic-minded and operationally oriented would be highly adept at moving into such a broader role, said one recruiter unrelated to the GSK search.
Mark Byford, global innovation and life sciences practice member at Egon Zehnder and Patrick Mooney, senior client partner – global life sciences at Korn Ferry, are spearheading the assignment supported by numerous colleagues.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media