Sanofi CEO Christopher Viehbacher arrives at the Elysee Palace for a state dinner in September 2013 in Paris. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images)

Sanofi Sacks CEO Over Management Row, Shares Plunge

Oct. 29, 2014
Sanofi fires CEO Christopher Viehbacher after a row over his management style, sending the French pharmaceutical giant's shares sharply lower.

PARIS -- French drugmaker Sanofi (IW 1000/94), one of the country's largest companies, fired its chief executive on Wednesday after a row over his management style, sending the pharmaceutical giant's shares sharply lower.

Sanofi stock dropped more than 5% on the opening bell of the Paris stock market after losing more than 10% the day before over disappointing earnings.

Shares rallied briefly during the day but still closed down more than 4.5% lower, weighing down the overall Paris market, which was flat at the close.

The 54-year-old Christopher Viehbacher, who holds dual Canadian and German nationality, had been chief executive since December 2008 but had recently become embroiled in a boardroom row.

He piloted the group through a period when it lost its exclusive rights to several important drugs and refocused the business on activities with strong potential, and notably the acquisition of US biotechnology group Genzyme.

A matter-of-fact company statement hinted at boardroom battles. The firm needs a manager committed to "focusing on execution with a close and confident cooperation with the board," Sanofi said.

The firm appointed chairman Serge Weinberg as a temporary replacement.

Weinberg told reporters the decision to sack Viehbacher was taken "unanimously" due to the chief executive's "management style," denying however that it was a personal issue.

He cited as an example of poor management-board relations the case of a project last year to sell old Sanofi drugs that the board found out about only through the media.

The slide in stock pushed Sanofi's market capitalization below that of Total (IW 1000/9), which also lost its chief executive earlier this month when Christophe de Margerie died in a plane crash in Moscow.

The chairman of BNP Paribas stepped down last month and the heads of energy giants EDF and Areva have all recently left, marking a major shake-up of the French corporate landscape.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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