GSK's Witty winning at pharma chess in post-blockbuster era

Andrew Witty has made a number of deft moves in recent years to position GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) for growth despite numerous challenges to Big Pharma. Yet rather than embarking on disparate gambits that have turned out well, Witty has largely stuck to a strategy that seeks to transform the way the London-based drugmaker does business.

In The Wall Street Journal this morning, Witty reflects on his four-year run as CEO and where he plans to take the U.K.'s largest drug company in the years ahead. Early in his tenure, he pushed the company to settle nettlesome lawsuits concerning Avandia and Paxil, expand into emerging markets such as China and hold his R&D groups' leaders' feet to the fire to make sure GSK gets returns on its R&D investments.

Now, all those maneuvers are due to pay off as GSK sails into 2012 and gets back to sales and margin growth this year, according to the WSJ report. Witty, of course, has seen the fruits of his labor pad his own pockets; his pay for 2011 was nearly double what he pocketed in compensation for the previous year, The Guardian reported last month. Yet many investors and, yes, even his countrymen in the U.K. have cheered his ascension. (The latter group saluted him last month when the company's nearly $800 million plan to expand manufacturing in the U.K. was revealed.) 

A recurring theme in Witty's strategy has been to change the old ways of doing business in pharma that caused the industry to fall on hard times after the loss of patents on blockbuster drugs.

"I have made no secret of the fact that the industry and companies like GSK needed to work differently," Witty told the WSJ. "My view was that the industry needed to do a lot to meet society, if you will, or its critics, at least halfway, and so that is what drives the internal change agenda at Glaxo--hence my focus on improving productivity of R&D, my focus on improving access to medicine in Africa and elsewhere, driving flexible pricing approaches in countries where that had not been seen before. Those are all dimensions of trying to change the behavior of the company."

A warmer, fuzzier pharma company? The way Witty seems to see things, his strategy to diversify GSK's business and stregthen its bottom line works hand-in-hand with doing good deeds like creating jobs and offering affordable drugs to people in poor countries.

- get more in the WSJ article