Which pharma execs win the popularity contest? Roche grabs two top-3 slots, for one

Roche CEO Severin Schwan topped Big Pharma CEOs in a new favorability ranking from Owler.

Sometimes adult life sends us through a disturbing time warp. It’s much too reminiscent of high school. The cool kids’ cafeteria table (or parking lot, where I grew up) becomes the cool grown-up party at J.P. Morgan, for instance. Step into biopharma Twitter, where the snark level sometimes hits Mean Girls levels.

But today, it’s the “best all-around” votes senior year echoed in post-high school reality. Only instead of the most popular graduating senior, these votes chose the most congenial CEOs in biopharma.

The business-information analysts over at Owler sifted through various data streams, including its own CEO rating tool (smile, frown or in-between) to come up with a ranking of the best-liked pharma leaders. The top 10 is mostly packed with Big Pharma’s top dogs, with a couple of surprises in the mix.

Including No. 1, Sanjay Bhatia of Laborate Pharmaceuticals, a small, privately held drugmaker in Delhi, India. His approval rating with Owler’s tool? A stunning 99 out of 100. And it’s not because he has 100 employees who all voted with a smile. Laborate has an estimated 5,180 staffers and 1,980 followers on the Owler site.

Roche and its Genentech unit swept second and third, with Roche’s Severin Schwan in second place with a 92.9 approval rating. Bill Anderson at Genentech clocked an 87.7. Switzerland-based Roche bought the share of California-based Genentech it didn’t already own back in 2009, and the Genentech side of the business has delivered some of Roche’s biggest-selling drugs in the last few years.

AbbVie’s Richard Gonzalez comes in fourth with an 83.8 approval rating—he’s been at the helm at that company since it was spun off by Abbott Laboratories in 2013. He’s consistently among the highest-paid CEOs in the industry, and while popularity among staff isn’t among his compensation metrics, driving “employee engagement” is.

Rounding out the top five is Shire’s Flemming Ornskov, whose most recent claim to fame is the company’s buyout of Baxalta, the pharma business spun off by Baxter in 2015.

The rest of the top 10? Merck’s Ken Frazier; GlaxoSmithKline’s Emma Walmsley, who’s brand-new to the Glaxo CEO post; Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky; and Bayer’s relatively new chief, Werner Baumann. Steven H. Collis, CEO of the drug distributor AmerisourceBergen, came in seventh. All of their ratings fell in the 70s.

This is not, of course, a randomized, statistically weighted survey with a p-value of less than 0.05. For all we know, one or more of the CEOs in the top 10 has a master plan to boost online ratings—good reviews, up votes, etcetera. But a couple of facts to walk away with are these: As a group, biotech and pharma CEOs came in 13th, ratings-wise, when measured against other industries.

Pretty average for likability, an Owler spokeswoman said in a statement. Those ratings “suggest that CEOs leading at pharma and biotech companies, in terms of favorability, are in the middle of the pack relative to CEOs in other industries.”