Reckitt Benckiser chief ahead of the consumer health curve, analysts say

Reckitt Benckiser CEO Rakesh Kapoor

What's that about Bart Becht's shadow? Don't ask Reckitt Benckiser CEO Rakesh Kapoor. He's not living in it.

Kapoor had big shoes to fill when his predecessor turned over the reins, Bloomberg notes. Becht had engineered a 6-fold increase in market value over just 12 years, and investors worried Kapoor couldn't keep it going--evidenced by the 7.5% share drop the day of his appointment announcement.

But as the company prepares to spin off its pharma business, many of Kapoor's one-time critics have come around. The company is moving away from the struggling drug unit--centered on generics-ravaged sales of heroin addiction med Suboxone--to focus on consumer health, an area many Big Pharma players are looking to for growth.

That could be because rivals see what Kapoor and other OTC-minded execs have done in the $200 billion field lately: Reckitt's healthcare push has beefed up sales across North America and Europe, areas that have come up stagnant for many competing companies. RB's sales in those regions grew 3% last year, according to Bloomberg.

That's in part thanks to some of the deals the 56-year-old Kapoor has made since taking the lead, outbidding Bayer for vitamin and supplement maker Schiff Nutrition for $1.4 billion in 2012 and last year adding healthcare treatments in Latin America and China, Bloomberg notes. And this year, Reckitt nabbed the rights to the K-Y sexual lubricant brand, which it can cross-sell with fast-growing condom maker Durex.

"He quickly embraced the whole consumer health care shift," RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones told the news service. "Rakesh articulated it as the No. 1 strategic priority, which was a sense I never got from Bart."

That's not to say it's been smooth sailing the whole way. Exane BNP Paribas analysts have criticized Kapoor for paying "eye-watering" multiples for pickups like Schiff. And the company lost out to Bayer after bidding for Merck's ($MRK) consumer health unit, which ultimately sold for $14 billion.

But Kapoor's still on the prowl for other acquisitions--and he could unload French's mustard to fund them, Sanford Bernstein analysts told Bloomberg. The pharma divestment will also give him ammo to foray into promising geographic areas like Nigeria and South Africa, which he says provide a "vast opportunity" for some of the company's products.

"Rakesh fully understands that it's not good enough just to grow in emerging markets," Oriel Securities analyst Chris Wickham told the news service. "These health care brands are jewels."

- see the Bloomberg story