GlaxoSmithKline soon to name RBS chair Hampton as next chairman

Sir Philip Hampton

The folks looking for a switcheroo at the top of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) may get their wish by the weekend. Sources tell Sky News that GSK is set to name a new chairman to replace Christopher Gent: Philip Hampton, now chairman at Royal Bank of Scotland and a widely reported frontrunner for the GSK job.

The change might pacify investors who have been agitating for a GlaxoSmithKline shake-up since the company reported a big hit to sales last quarter, thanks to competition for its respiratory blockbuster Advair. Shareholders say they're none too happy with Glaxo's current image problem, either, with a $500 million bribery fine coming due in China and corruption probes active in a number of other countries.

On the other hand, investors looking for a chairman ready to step in and make a difference could be disappointed. According to Sky News, Hampton wouldn't join Glaxo's board till the end of the year, and wouldn't actually take Gent's seat till the company's annual meeting in May.

Glaxo wouldn't confirm, but says its succession planning for Gent is "well underway."

Hampton would have a tough job ahead if he does sign on at Glaxo. Besides the slump in Advair sales, early results from its follow-ups, Anoro and Breo, have been less than spectacular. Glaxo warned in July that its profits forecast might be too ambitious. GSK shares plummeted on that news, taking a multibillion-dollar chunk out of the company's market cap.

Meanwhile, Glaxo's big asset-sale-and-swap with Novartis ($NVS) won't close till next year, and the payoff won't be immediate in any case. Off-loading its older products as planned will hit overall sales, at least at first.

GSK could use the proceeds of that established-products sale to make some deals, which might offer a ray of hope. The company might be counting on Hampton's appointment to provide a bigger one. Whether investors see it the same way--and consider it to be enough of a change for the moment--remains to be seen.

- see the Sky News coverage

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