French drugmaker Sanofi sacks CEO, shares drop

Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:39pm EDT
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By Natalie Huet and Noëlle Mennella

PARIS (Reuters) - Sanofi's (SASY.PA: Quote) board ousted its chief executive of six years on Wednesday, criticizing him for an authoritarian management style that was often popular with investors as he lifted the French drugmaker onto the global stage.

Shares in France's second-biggest listed company, battered by days of uncertainty over the future of CEO Chris Viehbacher and a warning over slowing growth at its key diabetes business, fell a further 4 percent in afternoon trade.

That took their decline over the past three days to more than 15 percent, wiping almost 17 billion euros ($22 billion) from the company's market value -- or more than the entire market capitalization of French carmaker Renault (RENA.PA: Quote).

Sanofi said it would continue the international expansion pursued under Viehbacher, blaming his dismissal on his lack of communication with the board and poor execution of his strategy.

But Chairman Serge Weinberg did not explain what had gone wrong in the diabetes field and told analysts they would not be getting detailed financial guidance for 2015 before annual results in February, leaving investors in the dark.

Weinberg added no further changes in the executive management team were planned and that Sanofi was "deeply committed" to being an international company -- an attempt to allay analysts' fears the company may become more insular.

Some were not convinced, however. "Viehbacher tried hard to change the DNA of the company but the board won in the end. Sanofi will become more parochial now," said Navid Malik, head of life sciences research at Cenkos Securities in London.

Sanofi said Weinberg would take on the CEO role until a replacement for the German-Canadian Viehbacher was found.   Continued...

Chris Viehbacher, Chief Executive Officer of Sanofi, delivers a speech at the beginning of the company's 2013 annual results press conference in Paris, February 6, 2014. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer