Sanofi to Name New CEO in Coming Weeks, As Uphill Battle to Fill Top Spot Finally Ends

Sanofi (SAN.PA) to Name New CEO by End of March as Applicants are Bountiful
February 5, 2015
By Riley McDermid, Breaking News Sr. Editor

French drugmaker Sanofi said Thursday that it will name a new chief executive in mere weeks, as it attempted to put to rest rumors that the company could not find any executives willing to take the reins after it unceremoniously ousted its previous CEO last fall.

"The announcement will be before the end of the first quarter," Chairman Serge Weinberg, who has been acting CEO since Chris Viehbacher was fired in October, told Reuters in Paris today.

Weinberg also said that when the company announces financial results at the end of the first quarter, Sanofi projecting a 1.5 percent quarterly earnings per share growth and is betting that a weak euro could help push up its profits.

Sanofi has endured protracted heckling from market watchers, who have watched with bemusement as more than three potential candidates have turned down the top job at the company, after the board ousted former popular Viehbacher in a power struggle over strategy.

Indeed, Wall Street is already speculating that Sanofi's Chairman Serge Weinberg may have to publicly acknowledge in his earnings results next week that the company has met with unparalleled difficulty of tempting someone into their head job.

Weinberg has previously declined to comment on rumors that Smith & Nephew French chief Olivier Bohuon, Christophe Weber, the French chief operating officer of Takeda Pharmaceuticals , and AstraZeneca PLC ’s Pascal Soriot had turned down the CEO job at Sanofi.

"We have no comment on the subject," Weinberg said, because he was only speaking "in general" about the difficulty of finding top talent for the position.

A source told Reuters that in the meantime, Sanofi continues to miss out.

"I think it is going to take time," said a source close to the company told the news service Friday. "What we risk missing in the meantime is a strategic vision that you cannot have without a deep knowledge of the pharmaceuticals sector."

In the past, Weinberg has complained that the high tax burden imposed upon companies by the French government is hindering Sanofi’s search for a new chief executive.

"The deterioration of French tax-competitiveness and the burden on companies and individuals pose a problem," Weinberg told reporters in Paris.

"It's extremely difficult to attract international executives or even bring back French ones who have left. There will be consequences if this continues, because we can't rely on patriotic sentiment or goodwill alone."

The situation is likely an ironic one for Weinberg, who was instrumental in ousting Sanofi’s last CEO, Christian Viehbacher, only to find that candidates for the position seem to be thin on the ground. In the interim, Weinberg must fill the role himself, in addition to his duties as chairman.

"The trouble with finding a successor hinges on the fact that we don't know the real reason he was fired, and because a lot of people are asking themselves questions about the subject," said an industry insider who has spoken to some potential candidates.

"The very low pay-off he received only reinforces the idea that the reasons he was fired are not the ones that have been talked about."

Sanofi’s board of directors fired Viehbacher on Oct. 29 because of “strategic differences,” including Viehbacher’s plan to sell the company’s portfolio of mature drugs worth about $7.9 billion.

Although Viehbacher was popular with shareholders because he managed to double the firm’s stock price during his tenure, management had long been at odds with him, particularly because he was the first non-French Sanofi chief executive. When he moves his family to Boston last year, spending only about a third of his time in France, the board acted to remove him.

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