Roche casts its net (again) for the perfect chairman

Roche ($RHHBY) needs a new chairman, and the candidates aren't exactly lining up. With its top two choices having already declined the position, the Swiss drug giant may have to turn to an outsider to succeed 16-year vet and former CEO Franz Humer, Reuters reports.

Humer has announced he won't stand for re-election next year, and the Hoffman-Oeri family, majority shareholders and descendants of Roche's founder, will have the final word on who fills the spot. A deadline has been set for the fall, Reuters says, but Roche has expressed the desire for a German-speaker with good knowledge of Switzerland--a combination that limits the field.

The CEOs of Shell and Nestlé, both Roche board members, have already turned down the job. Former pharmaceuticals head Pascal Soriot left the company last year to take the helm at AstraZeneca ($AZN) as CEO. Board member Christoph Franz fits the bill, as the Reuters piece points out, but as CEO of German airline Lufthansa, he has his hands full.

Early reports suggested Art Levinson, chairman of San Francisco-based Genentech--which Roche took over in 2009--might be brought in to fill the role. Levinson, a former Genentech CEO who also serves on the board of Apple, has the business experience, and Genentech's cancer blockbusters like Rituxan and Avastin power its parent company's earnings. But some, like Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Fabian Wenner, say he might be too radical for Roche. "Art Levinson would be awesome and clearly would have an opinion. But I doubt they would elect someone with such a strong mindset," Wenner told Reuters.

Whoever it is that ultimately steps in, the next chairman will have no easy task. As Reuters notes, Roche's incoming chairman will have to negotiate Swiss politics as lawmakers draft a new corporate tax law, and he or she will also need to navigate the company as global competition increases, with biosimilar developers already targeting the likes of Rituxan. As such, the company is searching for new revenue streams for the long term, like orphan-drug maker Alexion, for which it is reportedly looking to finance a bid.

"The new chairman will have to put a focus on the long-term perspective, on where the industry is going to be in the next 10-15 years and ask how can Roche still be in the driving seat," Wenner said.

- get more from Reuters

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