AstraZeneca CFO jumps ship in latest executive switcheroo

Simon Lowth--Courtesy of AstraZeneca

The executive suite at AstraZeneca ($AZN) is churning again. CFO Simon Lowth is jumping ship for BG Group, a natural gas company. He'll be around till the end of October, however, giving CEO Pascal Soriot time to bring in a successor.

It's just the latest change near the top for the U.K.-based drugmaker; since Soriot joined up last year from Roche ($RHHBY), he has swept out a few top execs, redrawn the org chart and tapped a new executive team.

Lowth's departure could be a case of the passed-over-for-CEO blues. After AstraZeneca's previous CEO, David Brennan, retired under pressure last spring, Lowth stepped in as interim CEO. Some insiders speculated that he would win the title permanently. But the board apparently preferred a career-pharma type rather than a financial whiz; Lowth actually joined AZ from Scottish Power and is a McKinsey & Co. alum. He's been at AstraZeneca for 6 years.

Analysts weren't surprised by his move. "Given the recent changes at AstraZeneca and in particular his stint as interim CEO, we suspect few will be surprised at this development," Shore Capital's Brian White and Paul Taylor said. Berenberg analyst Alistair Campbell agreed, saying, "The timing is unexpected, but I thought he would move on at some point."

Who might Soriot choose to fill the job? It might well be an AstraZeneca insider rather than an outsider, if his previous picks are any indication. Reorganizing R&D and commercial operations 6 months ago, Soriot eschewed external hires in favor of internal candidates. In that January shuffle, longtime R&D chief Martin Mackay and commercial EVP Tony Zook were shown the door, and 6 managers moved up to share those duties, with jobs drawn along geographic lines. But Soriot did bring on GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Marc Dunoyer in March to fill a newly created position as EVP of global portfolio and product strategy.

The musical chairs at the top at AstraZeneca are just a few of the changes there. Soriot has undertaken some radical surgery in his quest to boost growth and jumpstart R&D at the struggling drugmaker. He's announced another round of job cuts--2,300 globally--a headquarters move to Cambridge from London, and a major R&D reorganization as well. The company has also engineered a series of R&D deals in an attempt to enrich its pipeline.

- get the release from AstraZeneca
- read the Bloomberg story
- check out the Telegraph article

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