Sanofi ousts CEO over management style, sales drop

AP News
Posted: Oct 29, 2014 11:49 AM
Sanofi ousts CEO over management style, sales drop

PARIS (AP) — French drugmaker Sanofi sacked its CEO on Wednesday following a board room rift in which the chairman complained about his management style and an "inappropriate" lack of communication.

Christopher Viehbacher, a 54-year-old Canadian-German, was the first non-Frenchman to lead Sanofi, which is one of France's largest publicly traded companies and traces its roots to the early 19th century.

But although his six years appear largely successful — the company share price more than doubled — his relationship with the board in Paris became strained recently. When earnings results disappointed on Tuesday, the board pulled the plug on his tenure.

Chairman Serge Weinberg said the board unanimously decided to fire Viehbacher because of dissatisfaction with his management approach and handling of business, including a loss of U.S. market share for Sanofi's key diabetes drug, Lantus.

In a conference call with analysts, Weinberg also slammed Viehbacher's communication with the board, saying "it didn't work." He cited Viehbacher's plan to offload a multi-billion-euro portfolio of slow growing or declining drugs, saying the board had learned of it in the press. "This is not appropriate," Weinberg said.

Weinberg, 63, the one-time head of Gucci parent company PPR who was himself ousted following a rift with his board, will temporarily take over as CEO.

During his time at Sanofi Viehbacher cut costs and shifted focus to biotechnology, vaccines and over-the-counter medications. He orchestrated the $20 billion takeover of U.S. biotech firm Genzyme in 2011.

But his move earlier this year to Boston from Paris, where he'd moved after taking the helm at Sanofi, raised eyebrows in France.

On Tuesday, shares in Sanofi dived after the company reported a slide in quarterly earnings. Viehbacher said pricing pressure on its blockbuster diabetes treatment Lantus in the key U.S. market would continue to hamper sales growth into 2015.

Sanofi shares fell 4.3 percent to 71.33 euros on Wednesday following news of Viehbacher's dismissal.