French drugmakers retool under pressure

Before Sanofi-Aventis appointed Chris Viehbacher (photo) as its new CEO, the French pharmaceutical industry was already in the throes of huge changes. But Viehbacher's selection to run France's flagship pharma was a highly visible hallmark of this historic shift, the Financial Times reports.

Viehbacher, as you know, had been one of GlaxoSmithKline's three top executives and a board member--an outsider, in other words, a man with joint Canadian and German citizenship. Now, he's new blood to take the helm of a company long controlled by a small group of big French shareholders and home-grown management. Those big shareholders are cutting their stakes in the company as global pressures hit Sanofi along with the rest of Big Pharma, and the rest of French pharma, too.

Take Pierre Fabre, a privately held, family-run medicines group: It's not only restructuring in a big way, but it recruited ex-Glaxo CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier to take over management and help steer it through the financial shoals. Servier, another family-controlled drug company, is trying to consolidate its family control to protect itself from takeover. Whereas Ipsen, also a family firm, brought in outside capital and outside management, but retained overall control within the family in a bid to remain independent.

So French pharma appears to be seeking the best of both worlds: new, internationally trained management plus as much family/French control as practically possible. We'll see how they fare.

- read the FT article