GlaxoSmithKline CEO reshuffles 40% of management team in bid to bring in new ideas

Emma Walmsley
GSK CEO Emma Walmsley says she's optimistic about her new management "dream team." (Image: GlaxoSmithKline)

GlaxoSmithKline’s Emma Walmsley has grabbed headlines with some of the top management changes she’s made since taking over as CEO last March, namely poaching Luke Miels from rival AstraZeneca to head up pharmaceuticals and appointing Roche and Calico veteran Hal Barron as chief scientific officer. But behind the scenes, her scalpel has actually cut much deeper as she aims to reposition the struggling pharma giant.

Walmsley has replaced 50 top managers—40% of GSK’s top management team. The overhaul has spanned the company’s businesses, from consumer to oncology, and includes hires from both inside and outside the company, a GSK spokesman told Fierce. And Walmsley has managed to attract executives from some of the world’s top companies, including Google, Novartis and Teva. “Beyond the operational execution short-term, it’s going to be all about R&D and preparing for the next wave of growth for GSK in the 2020s and beyond,” Walmsley said during a CNBC interview at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. 

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In addition to hiring Miels and Barron, GSK stole away two Novartis veterans: Tobias Hestler was named CFO of the consumer unit and Christine Roth has taken over the oncology business. Lisa Martin ditched Teva to become GSK's chief procurement officer and Tony Wood left Pfizer to join the company's R&D team, the spokesman reports.

Roth is now helping steer GSK’s search for early-stage cancer drugs that it can license or buy to prop up its oncology pipeline. The company is embarking on that search as part of a major R&D overhaul it announced last July. That’s when Walmsley tossed 30 drug development programs and vowed to invest 80% of GSK’s research dollars in therapies to address respiratory disorders, infectious disease, cancer and inflammatory disease. The plan was unveiled after years of disappointing performance from GSK’s pharma division led major investors to pressure the board to break up the company. GSK’s stock has dropped nearly 9% since Walmsley took over last spring.

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GSK also created the position of chief digital officer and hired Karenann Terrell, the former chief information officer at Walmart, for the post. She has been charged with using new technology in data analytics and cloud computing to speed up drug development. The company also added Marc Speichert, formerly of Google, as its chief digital officer for the consumer unit. 

Walmsley was asked during the CNBC interview whether GSK might consider propping up the consumer unit even more by buying Pfizer’s over-the-counter business, which has been on the block since October. “We are one of the world leaders in consumer healthcare. We have a strong record of integrating businesses successfully, so you’d expect us to have a look at it. But frankly, we don’t need to do this deal,” Walmsley said. “We certainly won’t overpay for it. And nothing is going to cut across our number one priority, which is our pharma business, and really focusing on building that pipeline for the next wave of growth.”

GSK was scheduled to present at J.P. Morgan on Tuesday, and investors will no doubt be listening closely for more clues about Walmsley’s growth strategy. The management overhaul, she said on CNBC, has been a key element of that plan. “I’m super-excited about building this dream team,” she said.