GlaxoSmithKline chairman begins search for successor to CEO Andrew Witty

According to sources, GlaxoSmithKline's chairman Philip Hampton is starting the formal process of seeking a successor to CEO Andrew Witty, although a handover is not expected before 2017. People close to the matter indicated that Hampton has held meetings with shareholders during which he suggested that succession planning will be a priority for the board over the next couple of years.

Witty, who has been chief executive since 2008, has faced criticism from some investors recently over the company's flagging sales and profits, as well as a bribery scandal in China. In addition, a number of shareholders, including Neil Woodford, have called for a break-up of GlaxoSmithKline, arguing that its pharmaceuticals and consumer health units would perform better as standalone businesses.

Although Witty has recently conceded that spinning off the company's consumer healthcare division could be an option, he suggested that this is not something that should happen in the short term (for related analysis, see ViewPoints: Witty's wager – should GlaxoSmithKline split as prominent investor suggests?). According to Witty, GlaxoSmithKline is expected to demonstrate a return to growth this year, with the consumer healthcare unit showing improved profitability.

News reports indicated that likely internal candidates to succeed Witty include Abbas Hussain, head of GlaxoSmithKline's pharmaceuticals business, Emma Walmsley, who leads the consumer healthcare unit, and chief financial officer Simon Dingemans. Meanwhile, external candidates are said to include David Epstein, head of Novartis' pharmaceuticals division. GlaxoSmithKline declined to comment on the matter.

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