European pharma: CEO talent is the new measure of company calibre

By Fiona BARRY

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Executive officer Chief executive officer

Actelion's Jean-Paul Clozel was picked as a top European pharma CEO
Actelion's Jean-Paul Clozel was picked as a top European pharma CEO
Industry headhunters have picked their top CEOs in European pharma, saying the most successful investors keep chief execs in place even through hard times.  

Life sciences executive search firm RSA analysed 551 venture-backed pharma and biotech companies and their strategic transactions, including thousands of licensing deals and hundreds of IPOs and M&A.

RSA head Chris Molloy named Jean-Paul Clozel, head of Swiss orphan disease company Actelion as an example of an outstanding pharma CEO.

In Actelion’s early days, Clozel chose financing of rapid growth over retaining equity control of the company. The trade-off allowed the company to focus its cash on the discovery and commercialisation of its pipeline, Molloy told

The result is a highly successful company with multiple therapeutic areas in focus and a blockbuster therapy on the market,​” with an “entrepreneurial legacy​” from its founders. The company today has a market cap over 16bn Swiss Francs ($16bn).

Founders: the best CEOs?

In common with Clozel, many of Molloy’s other “CEO picks​” are founders or co-founders of their companies. He named Kirsten Drejer, head of Danish antibody firm Symphogen, James Noble of Adaptimmune, and Simon Moroney of antibody company MorphoSys among top European talent.   

In the most successful companies, investors have identified a strong CEO either at foundation or shortly thereafter,​” said Molloy. Backers who allow chief executives to ride out trouble often make the business stronger, he said.

Many companies gone through challenges but the CEOs have not been flipped out. The investors have stayed with them and enabled the CEO to make the changes they [need to].​”

The idea that when “things get bad​” investors must swap out management teams is “outdated​”, said Molloy. Companies have always been compared by their stock price and other measurables, but executive talent is becoming a new way to assess company equity, he told us.

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