Gender is secondary at Walmsley's‎ GSK

Mark Kleinman
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Emma Walmsley has joined the small ranks of FTSE 100 female chief executives (Source: GlaxoSmithKline) (Source: GlaxoSmithKline)

If the patient isn't responding, change the medicine: that's been the crude, but long-running, summary of some investors' prescription for Britain's biggest pharmaceuticals group.

So for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) investors, the least important aspect of Emma Walmsley's appointment as its next chief executive is her gender.

That doesn't make it unimportant, of course: ‎as the global pharmaceuticals industry's first female boss, Walmsley will inevitably become seen as a flag-bearer for a boardroom diversity agenda which is struggling to make an impact in the lower executive ranks ‎of British business.

Changing that is the task of Sir Philip Hampton, recently ensconced both as GSK's chairman and the figurehead of efforts to promote a greater female‎ presence in the UK's corporate arena. For him, picking Walmsley scores a dual benefit.

‎But for GSK shareholders, the far more pertinent fact about Walmsley is that she has already worked for the company for years.‎

Read more: GlaxoSmithKline names Emma Walmsley as chief executive

‎Those who believe its consumer goods business and HIV treatments unit deliver few benefits by residing on the same balance sheet were left bemused by this week's announcement.

Neil Woodford, the star fund manager who has been the most vocal advocate of such a break-up, was keeping his counsel this week. I wouldn't expect that to last long if Walmsley decides that a dose of something radical is unnecessary.

In one important respect - cost - it is not difficult to see why Hampton opted for an internal candidate. Institutional memories of the 2002 pay debacle surrounding Jean-Pierre Garnier remain fresh at GSK.

It cannot be a coincidence that roughly 85 per cent of the appointments of global pharmaceuticals company bosses in recent years have been internal recruits ‎- the accumulation of vast sums of deferred stock ‎act as an obstacle to big-money transfers between the industry's biggest players.

Walmsley's pay won't be disclosed until a consultation with investors concludes in a few months.

It may be unfair, but her honeymoon period is likely to be very short indeed. A reprise of the Garnier pay row would be ill-advised.

Hang onto Pennycook

Three years ago, it looked unlikely that any Co-op executive might receive acclaim in Westminster as a poster-child for corporate responsibility. The chairman of its banking arm, Paul Flowers, had quit in disgrace after drug-taking revelations, while Euan Sutherland, the boss of the group, walked out after details of his pay package were leaked to a newspaper.

‎How times have changed. Richard Pennycook, Sutherland's successor, has breathed new life into the mutual, taking a big pay cut in the process.

The job isn't done though. Superficially, this morning's half-year results will ‎not look much like progress. Profits will be down sharply - as Pennycook had previously warned - partly because of the cost of investing in the Co-op's revamped membership proposition.

The figures won't be helped by a further writedown in the value of its Co-op Bank stake, with ultra-low interest rates hurting lenders' profitability.

And, I understand, a planned payment from Thomas Cook to the Co-op for its remaining stake in a travel joint venture won't‎ now accrue until the turn of the year, several months later than expected.

Pennycook deserves credit for the job he has done though. Today's results should show that the mutual's main businesses - its food shops, funeralcare operations and insurance - are doing just fine.

That, of course, presents Allan Leighton, the Co-op chairman, with another problem - hanging onto his chief executive long enough to complete the turnaround.

Read more: Co-op Group set to announce 25 per cent hit on value of bank stake

British Land‎'s caution

The post-Brexit apocalypse predicted by some has yet to materialise, but caution appears to be the current watchword for many FTSE-100 companies.

Take British Land. I understand that the listed property giant this week exchanged contracts on the sale of Debenhams in Manchester and two retail sites in Wakefield and York to BMO Real Estate Partners.

The disposals generated proceeds of £191m - not material for a company with a £6.6bn market cap, but not exactly loose change either.

Sources close to British Land point out that these sales were in line with its strategy. I'd expect similar deals across the sector before Article 50 is invoked next year.

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