GSK searches for successor amid break-up calls

Billy Bambrough
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GlaxoSmithKline Reports First Quarter Profits
GSK's success recently has been down to a strong performance by the group’s HIV drugs unit (Source: Getty)

GlaxoSmithKline is gearing up its search for a successor to chief executive Sir Andrew Witty, as pressure mounts for a break-up of the company.

Sir Andrew, who has increased the company’s share price by 20 per cent since taking the reins in 2008, is not expected to depart before 2017.

A sharp downturn in GSK’s sales and profit combined with a corruption scandal in China has cast doubt over the future of Sir Andrew’s position at the company, with big shareholders including US capital management firm Och-Ziff and influential investor Neil Woodford calling for a change in strategy at the firm.

Sir Andrew has championed the medicines-to-mouthwash business model, arguing it delivers steady growth and hedges against the risks of drug development.

Woodford has called for a more focused approach, claiming it would deliver higher returns.

Sir Andrew’s strategy was first set out by his predecessor, Jean-Pierre Garnier, balancing a drugs division with a well known consumer brand.

GSK has yet to find a replacement for its blockbuster asthma drug Advair, though the share price has outperformed rivals following a $20bn (£14.4bn) asset swap with Swiss rival Novartis in 2015.

Chairman Sir Philip Hampton has brought in headhunter Egon Zehnder carry out the search, it was first reported in the Sunday Times, and is expected to include both internal and external candidates for the role.

The lengthy timeline suggests Sir Philip has resisted pressure for an immediate change at the top in favour of a more orderly transition.

Witty, who joined Glaxo 31 years ago as a trainee and has held the top job since 2008, beat out competition from two internal rivals for the position and took home a salary of £3.9m in 2014.

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