Ex-Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher

5. Sanofi ($SNY)
2014 revenue: €33.77 billion ($43.07 billion)
2013 revenue: €32.951 billion ($42.08 billion)

The drama at Sanofi last year wouldn't be obvious just from reading its 2014 financial statements. The numbers looked pretty much the same as they have for a few years now. Sales since 2010 have hovered between €32.4 billion and €34.9 billion, and 2014's €33.77 billion fell right in the middle of that. At €3.30 per share, earnings weren't as high as they were in 2012 (€3.68/share), but nor were they as low as 2013's (€2.77/share).

Product by product, the lineup looked similar, too. The diabetes blockbuster Lantus once again carried most of the water, sales-wise, with backup from now-off-patent clot-fighters Plavix and Lovenox, vaccines, and the rare disease and multiple sclerosis meds at its biotech unit Genzyme. Consumer health stepped up its game, as the French drugmaker has been counting on; one standout there was Allegra, which grew by a third to €350 million.

Behind those numbers, there was trouble in the U.S., where the diabetes unit was struggling with payer negotiations in advance of some important 2015 launches, including the newly approved Toujeo, expected to roll out in April. Anne Whitaker, who headed up the North American operation, made an abrupt exit--joining Synta Pharmaceuticals as CEO--and diabetes management underwent its own overhaul.

Sanofi Chairman Serge Weinberg

But of course the biggest conflict of 2014 brewed up between former CEO Chris Viehbacher and Sanofi's board, led by Chairman Serge Weinberg, who started scouting for replacements even before Viehbacher was out the door. The outspoken Viehbacher had ruffled feathers with cutbacks in France--and perhaps even more so with his blunt assessment of productivity at Sanofi's French R&D labs (not to mention abundant praise for innovation in Cambridge, MA, where Genzyme is based). And as Weinberg would point out in the Oct. 29 press conference announcing Viehbacher's departure, there was the little matter of selling a portfolio of older meds--something of a trend in Big Pharma these days--a deal proposal the CEO hadn't shared with the board before word of it broke in the press.

The full story of what went on behind the scenes at Sanofi won't ever go public, but its CEO search was closely watched, and by the time Weinberg was rolling out 2014 earnings results as acting CEO, he was also promising a new chief executive by March. On that he came through early, with February's announcement that Bayer HealthCare chief Olivier Brandicourt would take the job.

According to Weinberg, Sanofi will be focusing in 2015 on "operational excellence," expecting earnings per share to be flat to slightly higher compared with 2014. Brandicourt will take the helm April 2, and he'll have plenty on his to-do list: First up, the launch of Toujeo, the basal insulin Sanofi hopes can backfill for Lantus as its best-seller starts to face biosimilar competition.

-- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)

For more:
Sanofi makes it official--Brandicourt is its man
Look for a new Sanofi CEO by March, says chairman, as earnings top forecast
Former top Sanofi exec Whitaker nabbed by Synta to shuttle cancer drug to market
Don't fire me, Sanofi CEO tells board, amid tussle over strategy


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