How the wheels came off for Sanofi's CEO
By Noëlle Mennella and Carolyn Cohn
PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - Chris Viehbacher speaks plainly. "We had somewhat of a mess in Brazil," he told financial analysts in August 2013, "so that's why I decided to change management."
Fifteen months later he has gone the same way as the Brazilian employees he sacked so decisively - fired as chief executive of French drugmaker Sanofi (SASY.PA: Quote) at a dawn board meeting, with the "mess in Brazil" cited as one of the reasons.
Investors were stunned, having hitherto seen the affable German-Canadian as one of the best in the business, despite some setbacks and a tough few years for the drugs industry worldwide.
The whirlwind week began on Monday Oct. 27 with a leaked letter to the board, dated Sept. 4, in which Viehbacher wrote of rumours of a plot against him at board level and demanded clarity. On Tuesday he presented quarterly results.
"We had a conference call and questions were asked about his position but he was being reassuring," said Andrea Williams, European fund manager at Royal London Asset Management.
"Then at 8 AM on Wednesday he was gone. There was no opportunity for shareholders to say they did not want him to go."
In truth, Viehbacher's downfall was a rather more slow-burn affair. This is the story of how the high-flying former GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L: Quote) executive fell out with members of his board - to a point where they were plotting to replace him, only to find their hand forced by the leaked letter.
Viehbacher declined to be interviewed for this article. Continued...