Ahead of strategy reveal, Bayer taps activist investor Jeffrey Ubben for board seat

In the latest shake-up amid waves of changes at Bayer, the company is planning to add new expertise to its board room, including a prominent activist investor.

The supervisory board proposed three new independent candidates in biotech leader Nancy Simonian, M.D., legal expert Lori Schecter and activist investor Jeffrey Ubben. The nominations will be voted on during the company's annual shareholder meeting in late April.

In addition, the board promoted current head of commercial operations international at Bayer’s pharma division, Julio Triana, to the top slot at the company’s consumer health division, effective May 1.

Six-year consumer health president Heiko Schipper asked the board to move up the end of his contract to “pursue a career opportunity outside of Bayer,” the company said in a press release. His replacement, Triana, has been with the company since 2002.

Meanwhile, Bayer’s new board candidates are meant to “lend fresh impetus to our work, particularly in the fields of scientific research, litigation and capital markets which are so important for us,” chairman of the supervisory board, Norbert Winkeljohann, said in a statement. “These appointments will significantly strengthen the expertise of the supervisory board.”

Simonian is the former CEO of Syros Pharmaceuticals, where she remains on the board. Schecter comes from McKesson, where she served as general counsel and now remains as a board member and enterprise risk advisor until her planned retirement later this year.

Ubben, meanwhile, is a well-known name in the Bayer shareholder circle. The portfolio manager and managing partner at Inclusive Capital Partners was last year named a member of Bayer’s independent external sustainability council, a role he will step down from if elected to the supervisory board.

This time last year, Ubben led the campaign of shareholders pressing the company to quickly replace former CEO Werner Baumann ahead of his planned departure. 

The pressure from Ubben came after his firm, Inclusive Capital Partners, nabbed a 0.83% stake in the company. 

Last year, Ubben told The Financial Times that he would “prefer an external hire” to take Baumann’s place, a wish that came true with the installment of former Roche pharma chief Bill Anderson as Bayer’s new CEO later that month.

Since his appointment, Anderson has not been shy about his plans to “redesign Bayer” to solely focus on the essentials, “getting rid of anything else,” the CEO said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call.

He previously disclosed a plan to hack off multiple layers of middle management by the end of 2024. And Bayer in January announced a restructuring, with reducing bureaucracy serving as a “central component” of the adjustments. Many managerial roles are expected to be cut under the initiative.

Next week, the chief will map out its refreshed strategy at a capital markets day event. At the event, investors may get clarity about the long-running question of whether the company will split its divisions.

Rumors of a split have swirled for years and intensified under Bayer's new leadership. However, some trade groups have pushed back on that idea due to concerns of potential German job losses. The company will likely table any potential split-up plans to focus on the restructuring, Reuters reported in January, citing two people familiar with the matter. Some members on Bayer's supervisory board who represent employee or trade union interests have also made clear that their support of the organizational overhaul is based on a one-Bayer structure.