At GSK, a public race for the top spot

GlaxoSmithKline is holding a very public race to choose the company’s next CEO. GSK’s current chief, Jean-Pierre Garnier, announced in September 2005 that he was retiring and that the company would be considering internal candidates for the job. The three men being evaluated for the top spot are David Stout, president of global pharmaceutical operations; Chris Viehbacher, president of U.S. pharmaceuticals; and Andrew Witty, president of European pharmaceuticals. GSK has hired an outside consulting service to evaluate each candidate; the service is not recommending a particular candidate, but rather providing the board of directors with reports on the candidates. As part of the evaluation process, each executive was given specific projects related to issues facing the industry. They were also reviewed by their subordinates and bosses as well as by each other. The three candidates have spoken at conferences, met with directors, and given presentations about their business to the board.

While the two-year evaluation process is designed to help the board choose the most qualified executive for the job, some observers say this kind of public competition isn’t good for the company or the candidates. “You've put the four people most involved in running the business, including [Jean-Pierre Garnier], in the position where, as well as running the business, they're thinking of what's going to happen when J.P. retires,” Paul Diggle, a pharmaceutical analyst with Nomura Code Securities in London, told The Wall Street Journal. Another analyst notes that the two executives who are passed over for the job may jump ship, as Karen Katen did when Jeffrey Kindler was named CEO of Pfizer.

The board could take a final vote on GSK’s new CEO as early as next month. Garnier plans to step down in May of 2008.

- read the Wall Street Journal article for more (sub. req.)