GSK promotes Willemsen as China head, will 'put more energy' into growth prospects

GSK
GlaxoSmithKline has promoted a new leader to its China business in Thomas Willemsen.

CEO Andrew Witty recently indicated that GlaxoSmithKline’s China business has "fundamentally" returned to growth years after being embroiled in a bribery scandal. Now, the company has tapped a new China boss to manage that growth, GSK's latest in a series of personnel changes heading into next year.

Herve Gisserot, currently the company’s China head, will transition into a role that’ll see him managing pharmaceuticals for the Asia Pacific region, Bloomberg reports. Taking his position as head of GSK’s China business will be Thomas Willemsen, who currently serves as vice president, head of commercial operations in the country, according to the news service.

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Amid an intense bribery investigation and unfolding scandal back in 2013, Gisserot succeeded Mark Reilly as the company’s China head.

The leadership changes in the Asia Pacific region come shortly after GSK named Emma Walmsley a successor to CEO Andrew Witty and following a separate announcement that vaccines head Moncef Slaoui plans to retire next year. Walmsley will take the CEO job in March and join the board in January.

After struggling in China in the wake of the bribery scandal, and paying a $489 million fine, GSK is “back into the growth” in the important country, Witty said on the company’s most recent quarterly conference call. This summer, the company won China's first HPV approval with its Cervarix vaccine, a product that could throw in an added boost.

"We can see a significant opportunity to put more energy behind" the China business "in the next year or two," Witty continued.

GSK grew sales in China 24% in the third quarter due to the "benefit of wholesaler stocking ahead of a systems upgrade but also the recent restructuring and refocusing of the China business," according to its earnings release. With the wholesaler stocking aside, sales there grew about 4%.

Though years removed, the bribery scandal made its way back to the fore this week, as a pair of private investigators sued the multinational pharma company for actions they say led to their imprisonment and mistreatment in China.

GSK, for its part, said it does “not believe this case has any merit and will vigorously defend against the allegations."

Since that scandal, the London-based pharma has implemented a range of marketing reforms, including the removal of individual sales quotes, which some industry watchers said at the time might have hurt its efforts to return to sales growth.

But most recently, GSK has won two awards for corporate responsibility, topping Fortune’s 2016 Change the World rankings and winning the No. 1 spot in the new Access to Medicines Index.

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