Novartis picks AstraZeneca alum as new CFO

Has Daniel Vasella (photo) just appointed an heir apparent? The Novartis chief said he's tapped Jonathan Symonds (photo), an ex-AstraZeneca CFO, to serve as deputy chief financial officer. Symonds will report to the current CFO Raymond Breu, who's retiring in March 2010, and then he'll take over Breu's job. When Reuters asked the company whether Symonds might then be in line for Vasella's post, the answer came back as "no comment."

But here's some evidence supporting Reuters' line of questioning: As AstraZeneca's CFO, Symonds was in the horse race for the top slot there. After losing out to now-CEO David Brennan (photo), he defected to join Goldman Sachs. So we know he has CEO ambitions. Also, Vasella has said that he needs to groom a successor; he's been running the company for 12 years and currently has a contract through 2010. Plus, as Reuters reports, the Novartis chief said in December that while Joerg Reinhardt--recently promoted to COO--might be a potential CEO, Vasella would see having just one potential successor as "a shortcoming."

In the meantime, at least, Symonds is expected to go gangbusters at the CFO job. Analysts praised his performance at AstraZeneca, where he supervised the MedImmune buyout and the merger that created the company from Astra and Zeneca. "Symonds has a strong track record of driving efficiency at AstraZeneca," Karl-Heinz Koch, pharmaceutical analyst in Zurich told the Wall Street Journal. "He improved operating profitability from percentages in the low twenties to the high twenties, and navigated the company's finances through a major patent cliff."

- see the release from Novartis
- check out the article from Reuters
- read the WSJ story