Roche picks Lufthansa boss Franz as new chairman

Mon Sep 16, 2013 5:18am EDT
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By Caroline Copley

ZURICH (Reuters) - Roche has picked Deutsche Lufthansa Chief Executive Christoph Franz to succeed Franz Humer as chairman of its board, filling the top post at a time of change for the world's biggest maker of cancer drugs.

Franz, 53, who has been a member of Roche's board since 2011, will stand for election at Roche's annual shareholder meeting on March 4, the Swiss drugmaker said on Monday.

"Roche is getting a chairman with outstanding personal qualities and an impressive record as head of a major global company," said Humer, who is retiring as announced in March.

"I am sure that his extensive experience, exceptional global network and strong links to Switzerland will be great assets."

While the move is a coup for Roche, whose family owners had expressed a preference for an inside candidate, it comes as the German airline is in the middle of a strategic overhaul to try to cope with rising fuel costs and low-cost competition.

Analyst Fabian Wenner at brokerage Kepler Cheuvreux said Franz fitted the demands of Roche's family owners by being a German speaker with the right cultural connections, but there would be questions over his depth of knowledge of the drugs industry.

The Hoffman-Oeri family, descendents of Roche's founder Fritz Hoffman-La Roche, hold 50.01 percent of the company's shares and have a key say on who is chairman.

Although it will be a non-executive role, the new chairman will have to navigate local politics as Swiss lawmakers hammer out a new corporate tax law, and find his way in a global industry in which some of Roche's top-selling medicines are expected to face competition from cheaper copies from 2016.   Continued...

Christoph Franz, CEO of German air carrier Lufthansa attends the general meeting in Cologne May 7, 2013. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender