Novartis poaches Bristol Myers Squibb's Michelle Weese to lead newly carved out corporate affairs role

The retirement of Novartis’ long-standing chief communications officer Michael Willi has created a domino effect of changes within its corporate and communications business.

Willi’s upcoming exit has opened the door for Michelle Weese, who for the past two years has been leading Bristol Myers Squibb’s corporate affairs unit and will now take up the same role at Novartis.

That role, head of corporate affairs, is “a new function that brings together our Global Public Affairs, Communications & Engagement, Patient Engagement, and Global Heath & Sustainability teams,” Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, M.D., said in a LinkedIn post announcing the change-up.

“Michelle is an experienced leader who has led corporate affairs organizations at a global scale, and I look forward to collaborating with her on the important work ahead. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming her to our team,” added Narasimhan.

Willi, who has been Novartis’ CCO for nearly a decade, “will retire in the months ahead,” the company said in a statement.

In that time, the pharma has doubled down on digital in both research and its communications and marketing departments while also this year committing to a “U.S. first” approach when it comes to commercialization and launches.

“I couldn’t be more excited to join Novartis,” said Weese in a statement. “I’m energized to collaborate with our teams to shape the next era of our corporate story and engagement together.”

Weese was present during a transformative few years for BMS, coming on board after the company spent $74 billion buying out Celgene. She helped launch a corporate campaign that celebrated the company's transformation.

The campaign, called “The Touch That Transforms,” went heavy on social media with a centerpiece video starring BMS’ own scientists.