Warning to Takeda, Bayer, Novartis and AstraZeneca: CEO-hunting Sanofi may poach your executives

Those fast-and-furious rumors about Chris Viehbacher's impending ouster at Sanofi ($SNY)? The new round of chatter about Viehbacher's replacement is almost as intense. Bloomberg has a list of healthcare execs said to be up for the job, and they span a who's who of Big Pharma companies.

Christophe Weber

Smith & Nephew ($SNN) CEO Olivier Bouhon has been on the list ever since the day Viehbacher was pushed out. Now, the new chief operating officer at Takeda Pharmaceutical has joined him.

That would be a blow for the Japanese drugmaker, which is grooming Christophe Weber to take over as CEO next year. He has spent his short tenure refocusing the company and talking up new strategies; he would be Takeda's first non-Japanese chief. Company sources tell Bloomberg that he's not likely to leave so soon.

Then there's Eric Cornut, the chief ethics officer at Novartis ($NVS). And Olivier Brandicourt, who has headed up Bayer HealthCare since its previous chief, Joerg Reinhardt, jumped ship to serve as Novartis chairman. And Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca ($AZN) CEO, of course. Word is that Sanofi Chairman Serge Weinberg approached him before Viehbacher's chair was empty.

One thing all these men have in common, as Bloomberg notes? Ties to France. Bouhon, Weber and Brandicourt are French, the news service says. Cornut, a Swiss, previously headed up Novartis' operations in France. Soriot recently joked that he's Australian--he's a permanent resident of that country--but he's also a French citizen.

Former Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher

Viehbacher was Sanofi's first non-French CEO. Though Weinberg has said that the Sanofi board's problems with Viehbacher had nothing to do with his heritage or nationality, analysts have pointed out that the now-former chief wasn't as wedded to the company's French operations as previous executives had been. Viehbacher's cutback plans in France--and the political tussle that resulted--certainly didn't help his relationship with the board.

Analysts also figure that investors won't want Sanofi to adopt more France-centric ways. Weinberg says the company is looking far and wide for its new CEO. He says the company is global, with worldwide operations and a focus far beyond its home country's borders.

If Sanofi appointed an insider to the job, that could be cause for worry, analysts say. A pharma exec with lots of experience, particularly in Big Pharma, could do just the opposite. If Sanofi can recruit a CEO with ties to France and a Big Pharma background, that might be its way to straddle both worlds.

- see the Bloomberg story

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