Novartis names new leader for its troubled OTC operations

Manufacturing shortcomings have cost another top executive her job.

Naomi Kelman, a former Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) marketing executive, who moved to Novartis ($NVS) just a year ago to take the reins of the over-the-counter operations, has resigned. She has been replaced with someone whose experience in manufacturing seems better suited to deal with what must sometimes seem like endless quality control issues at the company.

Kelman is being replaced as division head for Novartis OTC by Brian McNamara, a veteran marketing executive who has some manufacturing management experience on his résumé from a previous stint at Procter & Gamble ($PG). McNamara has been at Novartis since 2004 in a number of positions including region head of Novartis OTC Europe from 2007 to 2010.

Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez thanked Kelman for her brief tenure in a statement and said of McNamara that he is "confident that Brian will provide strong leadership, focusing on growing our priority brands, consistently meeting our quality standards, and improving performance in key emerging markets."

Implied in that remark is that McNamara will get on top of the manufacturing and quality control issues that have plagued the unit. Novartis' Lincoln, NE, manufacturing facility, which handles most of the company's OTC production, has been tied to a relentless string of recalls, including recalls of the entire Excedrin line. The plant was closed in December when remediation was stepped up and will not open before midyear.

No one lays the blame for those problems at Kelman's feet and Novartis' manufacturing shortcomings have not been limited to its OTC operations. Last month, its Sandoz unit announced that production of some of its drugs at a plant in Boucherville, Quebec, Canada, had been suspended because remediation efforts there required that it stop production lines.

A number of other companies with manufacturing issues have shaken up their management ranks recently. Two veteran executives at Johnson & Johnson recently left and a new executive was put in charge of its troubled McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit. Further, many believe that J&J's CEO William Weldon was pushed to retire because of all of the quality issues at McNeil as well as with the company's hip implant products, which have resulted in a raft of litigation. Some analysts suggested that J&J insider Alex Gorsky got the top spot, in part, because he has some supply chain experience overseeing J&J's medical device business and that the company needed someone who at least understood the issues.

Hospira ($HSP), which has been dealing with quality and shortage issues, last month appointed a senior vice president of quality and created the new position of vice president of pharma operations excellence, "to ensure that process change is systemic across the company's U.S. plants," according to a release.

To drive home the importance that improving GMP practices will have for the new division head at Novartis, the company said: "McNamara will take on responsibility for continuing to drive growth in Novartis OTC, ensuring high quality standards, as well as implementing innovative marketing initiatives."

- get the company's release

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UPDATED: Novartis suspends production at another plant