Sanofi nabs former GSK exec Viehbacher as CEO

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Sanofi-Aventis has reported that the Chris Viehbacher, who recently quit as North American head of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), will succeed Gerard Le Fur as CEO of the company, as of Dec. 1.

According to GSK's 2007 proxy, Viehbacher has a 12-month non-compete clause in his contract with the company. But in negotiating his exit, GSK has been more consumed with preventing a follow-the-leader exodus, according to the Financial Times. The company has allowed Viehbacher go to a competitor, but it does not want him to recruit anybody to join him.

Viehbacher has spent 20 years of his career with the London-based GSK; he has held a variety of senior positions, notably the General Manager of France and later of Europe, according to the Paris-based Sanofi. In his last position at GSK, he was president of pharmaceutical operations, North America and a member of the board.

One of the three top GSK execs who wished to succeed former worldwide CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier upon his retirement, Viehbacher was passed over in favor of Andrew Witty, who took over officially after the company's annual meeting this spring. At the time, offered a £2.5 million ($4.4 million) retention package of shares on condition if he stayed, according to the Financial Times.

GSK said it would look internally and externally for a replacement to Viehbacher. Meanwhile, his deputies, Stan Hull and David Pernock will assume his day-to-day responsibilities under Witty’s supervision.

Some have reported that Le Fur, who has headed Sanofi for less than two years, is being removed as a result of clashes with Sanofi's board chairman, Jean-Francois Dehecq. Sanofi said that Le Fur will remain on to work in scientific areas within the group.