French Smith & Nephew CEO Olivier Bohuon seen as solid pick for top Sanofi job

Olivier Bohuon

Olivier Bohuon, the CEO of artificial hip and knee maker Smith & Nephew ($SNN) may have a leg up over other potential candidates to take the reins of drugmaker Sanofi ($SNY) after the firing of Chris Viehbacher last week. He has experience in pharma and has excelled at Smith & Nephew by moving it into new markets. Most importantly, he is French.

"There's a strong rationale for Sanofi to appoint him. He's halfway through the job at Smith & Nephew and whether he wants to abandon that is a question, but Sanofi, for a Frenchman, would have very strong attractions," Savvas Neophytou, an analyst at Panmure Gordon, told Reuters.

Serge Weinberg, chairman and now acting CEO, told analysts in a call last week that the Viehbacher's nationality did not factor into the decision to can him. "It is important to note that all board members, regardless of nationality, voted for this decision," he said. After preparing for upcoming launches, Weinberg said his second focus is to find as soon as possible, "a good pharma professional, whatever his nationality is."

Still, it is generally believed that Viehbacher's downfall could be traced to his frank discussions of Sanofi missteps, a tendency his less discursive French board abhorred, his lack of finesse in navigating French political and government protocol, and his seeming inability to realize his forthright style upset his bosses. The company's first non-French CEO, Viehbacher was sometimes openly critical of the lack of innovation from its French operations. He lacked savoir faire.

But investors appreciated Viehbacher's moves to focus Sanofi internationally. While Weinberg acknowledged Sanofi must be an international company, the firing worried some that the drugmaker might become insular.

Bringing the 55-year-old Bohuon on might dispel some of those concerns. He has a French education and was CEO of French pharmaceutical and cosmetics firm Pierre Fabre four years ago, Reuters points out. He also has lots of international experience. He ran the pharmaceutical business for Abbott Laboratories at one point and has worked for GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) in Europe. Bohuon also has moved Smith & Nephew into sports medicine and emerging markets. Emerging markets were part of Viehbacher's focus. Bohuon's experience with devices might complement Sanofi's efforts to sell more insulin by improving insulin delivery and testing devices.

Two other names have also surfaced among the matchmakers. AstraZeneca ($AZN) CEO Pascal Soriot has reportedly been approached but was not interested in a move. Bernard Poussot, the former boss of Wyeth who is now retired has also been mentioned. What is their appeal? Both have strong pharma experience and both have strong French connections.

- read the Reuters story