Serge Weinberg - Sanofi

Taking the reins at a critical moment

Name: Serge Weinberg
Title: Chairman, Sanofi

Sanofi ($SNY) Chairman Serge Weinberg had his work cut out for him after Chris Viehbacher's ouster in October. As acting CEO, Weinberg took on the task of finding Viehbacher's replacement and steering the company toward calmer waters. Sanofi expected growth to slow considerably for its diabetes unit in 2015, and Weinberg admitted the company had lost market share in the U.S. And with Sanofi's CEO and board at loggerheads, investors needed some reassurance that the company was back on track.

Weinberg addressed Sanofi's problems head-on, and the decisions he made during his stint as interim CEO will resonate at the company for some time to come. Finding a new chief was job one, and though Weinberg said nationality didn't play an issue in Viehbacher's ouster, his replacement certainly takes Sanofi back to its roots. As the company's first non-French CEO, Viehbacher ruffled feathers, particularly with his agnostic approach to cutting jobs and costs; he didn't spare French operations.

Weinberg, a former French government official, put more stock in the country's well-being--and he recruited Frenchman Olivier Brandicourt to take Viehbacher's place. And in February, Weinberg targeted R&D operations at its U.S. unit Genzyme for cutbacks, after several years of R&D structuring in France. The idea was to move away from the company's unproductive work in oncology.

Weinberg and Sanofi's board didn't completely throw Viehbacher's ideas out the window, however. In its November pipeline review, Sanofi recommitted to Viehbacher's "open innovation" strategy, an important shift in drug research, and to teaming up with big-name partners to produce next-generation drugs. If the company can gain the 18 new approvals it's looking for over the next 5 years, it could reap more than $38 billion in additional sales.

Meanwhile, Weinberg quickly moved to change the conversation about Sanofi's diabetes operations. He pointed to the company's U.S. diabetes unit as a reason for Viehbacher's dismissal, saying sales reps' work with doctors wasn't up to par and managers weren't focused on "adequate targets." He claimed Sanofi was working to fix the problems and hoped the company would "recover a better position" in the coming quarters. With several big launches underway and forthcoming--and biosimilar competition for its lead drug Lantus looming--Sanofi's pricing, marketing and other competitive moves will be closely watched by its rivals. The company could touch off a price war or a marketing arms race, depending upon its choices over the next year.

Sanofi is still in the market for M&A, Weinberg told German newspaper Handelsblatt last year. The company is focused on internal growth but also has its eye on consumer health, veterinary drugs and vaccines--areas that are "less driven by innovation, but continuously grow and are more stable," he added. They're also areas that other pharma companies have targeted for growth, so as a deal shopper, Sanofi will be competing with other big names. Pfizer ($PFE) is looking to gain ground in vaccines, and Bayer wants to be first in consumer health. Meanwhile, Novartis ($NVS) is launching a consumer health joint venture with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK).

-- Emily Wasserman (email | Twitter)

For more:
Sanofi's got a new CEO. Now what?
Sanofi drops the ax on 100 R&D staffers in Boston reorganization
Deals 'R' Us, says Sanofi chairman, pegging consumer, animal health for buys
More turmoil in top ranks of Sanofi's diabetes business

Serge Weinberg - Sanofi
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