Emma Walmsley, GSK Consumer Health

Emma Walmsley
Running the world's largest consumer health business

Company: GSK Consumer Health
Title: CEO

A 2010 networking lunch conversation between Emma Walmsley--then head of L'Oreal's Chinese consumer business--and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) CEO Andrew Witty "ended up spiraling into a job offer alarmingly fast."

"I spent a week persuading myself I would be insane" to accept a position as the president of the British pharma giant's consumer healthcare unit, she wrote in a post on LeanIn.org.

She worried she was underqualified, that the job would be too difficult and that she being unfair to her family and disloyal to her company. But as she eventually realized, "the huge opportunity was in the challenge," and she now refers to the career move as "the opportunity of a lifetime."

"I'm starting to be convinced I have a right to be at the top table in business and am genuinely happy in my new company where I know I'm making a difference. It's a privilege to be leading a team working everyday to help more people all over the world do more, feel better and live longer," she wrote.

Since then, her job has gotten even larger. In April of last year, her company announced it would be teaming up on a Glaxo-controlled consumer health joint venture with Novartis ($NVS) as part of a multibillion-dollar asset swap. Walmsley, appointed the JV's CEO, oversaw the integration of the two units, with the transaction closing this March.

The challenges before her now? Get the unit's margins, currently languishing around the 10% to 11% mark, to 20% by 2020, and deliver sales growth to offset lagging revenues in the company's pharma unit.

Critical to driving that growth will be pharma-to-OTC switches, and on those, Walmsley says her team is "more than fit to compete." As she told investors on an October conference call with Bernstein analysts, Glaxo recently pulled off a successful launch for DTC Flonase, which is now a top-three brand.

The product is also "No. 1 recommended by pharmacists, No. 1 recommended by allergists, already 23 miles of shelf space, and last week we were awarded supplier of the year versus all of the other big players regardless of category, but one of the top leading U.S. retailers," Walmsley said. "So we're in it to win it, and so far so good." -- Carly Helfand (email | Twitter

For more:
Special Report: Pharma's top 10 M&A deals of 2014 - GlaxoSmithKline Oncology/Novartis Vaccines (excluding flu)
Glaxo OTC chief: When it comes to consumer health, pharma has the edge
Glaxo's consumer health CEO lays out blueprint for margin turnaround
Post-Novartis deal, GSK's top dog in vaccines, consumer health. Now what?
Novartis, GSK team up in consumer JV to save big money, gain big scale
GSK taps L'Oreal exec to lead consumer biz

Emma Walmsley, GSK Consumer Health