Six months into its search for a new board chairman, GlaxoSmithKline has apparently found the perfect candidate in a seasoned executive groomed at AstraZeneca and Novartis. Jonathan Symonds is in the final stages of being appointed, Bloomberg reports.
In January Sir Philip Hampton announced his intention to step down and make way for a new leader to oversee the consumer health joint venture GSK is setting up with Pfizer. The deal — announced a month prior — would spin out the unit formerly headed by GSK CEO Emma Walmsley and merge it with the equivalent division at Pfizer to create a new entity to be listed separately.
A GSK spokesperson said an announcement about the new chairman will be made “in due course.”
Symonds, who currently serves as deputy chairman on banking giant HSBC’s board, would appear to bring the kind of pharmaceutical experience being called for. He was a one-time contender for the chief executive position at AstraZeneca — where he’d worked for 10 years — but lost out to David Brennan. He then left his CFO role for Goldman Sachs, only to return to the pharma world two years later to become CFO at Novartis.
Some of those pharma giants’ most iconic transactions in recent years took place during his tenure. AstraZeneca acquired MedImmune two months before his departure, while Novartis took generic maker Alcon under its umbrella soon after he joined.
Since his retirement from Novartis in 2013 Symonds has occupied himself with a handful of board roles. Aside from HSBC, he’s stayed close to life sciences by getting involved with Proteus Digital Health, Genomics England and Rubius Therapeutics.
At GSK he would lead a team of seven non-executive directors alongside the three C-suite members sitting on the board as the company shifts its R&D strategy, with a renewed attempt at developing some blockbuster cancer therapies, while continuing to grow its vaccines business. Execs on the board include Walmsley as well as Hal Barron and Iain Mackay, both of whom she handpicked to turn R&D and finances around.