AstraZeneca scouts replacements for longtime chairman Johansson: report

Leif Johansson has served as AstraZeneca's chairman since June 2012. (AstraZeneca)

During his seven-year stint as AstraZeneca chairman, Leif Johansson weathered some ups and downs—and helped fend off one major hostile takeover attempt. Now, the drugmaker is getting ready to scout for successors, Sky News reports

The company hasn't set a timetable for a transition, but its nomination and governance committee is taking a closer look, the British publication reports, citing people familiar with the matter. AstraZeneca declined to comment on the report.

In England, board members are no longer considered "independent" after nine years of service. AstraZeneca could be positioning itself to keep an independent chair as Johansson nears that point.

AstraZeneca officials aren’t sure whether Johansson or AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot would leave first, Sky News reports; both started their jobs back in 2012. One investor believes Johansson would depart within 18 months, allowing his successor to scout out Soriot’s replacement, Sky News reports. 

In an interview with Swedish business publication Di, Johansson explained the "comply or explain" rule in England. Under the rule, "nine years is a suitable time as chairman" and "if you stay longer you must give an explanation," Johansson told Di, according to a translation.

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"I am aware of that rule but we have not made any decisions about succession, neither for Pascal nor for me," he further said, according to a translation.

It was Johansson who worked with other board members in 2012 to recruit Soriot, then a Roche executive. AZ's previous helmsman, David Brennan, had bowed out a few months earlier.  

RELATED: AstraZeneca gets back to growth, but can it hit $40B by 2023? CEO says yes—again

In the years that followed, Soriot and Johansson have worked to move AZ past a number of patent expirations and, along the way, fought hard to block Pfizer's hostile takeover attempt. As part of their takeover defense, Soriot pledged to grow revenues to $40 billion by 2023. Last year, the company finally posted growth after a multiyear downturn, but still generated just over half of that goal at $21 billion in sales. In November, Soriot reiterated that the $40 billion goal is still within reach.

The company is growing in part thanks to cancer drugs Tagrisso, Imfinzi and Lynparza, which generated $1.86 billion, $633 million and $647 million in 2018, respectively. Additionally, the company has a strong presence in China, where sales grew 28% last year to $3.8 billion.

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline Chairman Philip Hampton bows out as company preps for split-up

AstraZeneca won't be the only British pharma giant scouting for a new chair if the report holds true. GlaxoSmithKline in January said its chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, is stepping aside as the drugmaker prepares to split off its consumer health business.

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