Sanofi Creates Candidate Shortlist For Top CEO Job: Report

Sanofi Creates Candidate Shortlist For Top CEO Job

November 20, 2014

By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Since ousting Christopher Viehbacher as chief executive of Paris-based Sanofi on Oct. 29, there has been constant speculation both on Wall Street and in the press who the company will find to replace him. Currently Serge Weinberg is interim CEO and chair of the company.

Industry insiders, who have declined to be named, are offering a set of names as potential Sanofi chief, reported Bloomberg Thursday.

Individuals under consideration include Olivier Bohuon, of medical device maker Smith & Nephew Plc and Christophe Weber, current chief operating officer of Japan-based Takeda . Weber has only been with Takeda since April and is expected to step up to CEO next year.

Other potential candidates include Eric Cornut, the chief ethics officer of Novartis AG and Olivier Brandicourt, director of healthcare for Bayer AG . Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca Plc has already declined the position, although apparently he remains on the short list of possible candidates.

There has been some speculation that a major factor in Viehbacher’s firing was that he was the first non-French CEO of Sanofi and most of the board was French. Although the company has stated that nationality was not a factor and will not be a factor in selecting the new CEO, it’s notable that Bohuon, Weber and Brandicourt are French. Cornut is Swiss and ran Novartis’s French operations. Viehbacher is German-Canadian.

The rationale behind Viehbacher’s dismissal was disagreement over how to execute Sanofi’s strategy. Emphasis has been placed on his plan to sell off the company’s portfolio of mature drugs worth about $7.9 billion. In addition, a few months earlier he had moved to Boston for family reasons, splitting his time between the U.S., Paris and various international locations.

Despite those clashes with the board, in his eight years with the company Viehbacher doubled the share price. Despite being popular with shareholders, Viehbacher battled with the board, French unions and some in the French government, primarily over cost-cutting policies that directly affected French workers.

On Nov. 18 the Sanofi board met and chose director Jean-Rene Fourtour to oversee the appointments and governance committee that will be responsible for replacing Viehbacher. This position was previously occupied by Weinberg, who has plenty on his plate with his duties as both group chairman and interim CEO. In addition, the company named Bonnie Bassler, a professor of molecular biology, as an independent member of the board of directors.

“You’ve got to have somebody who is agile enough to deal with resource allocation on the one hand, but also has the ability to catch on to changes,” said Michael Leuchten, an analyst at Barclays Plc in London to Bloomberg. “This is where people are a little bit concerned now, because people thought Viehbacher had that.”

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