I am once again looking at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) following the announcement of its first set of results since the appointment of Emma Walmsley as Chief Executive. Ms Walmsley has been with GSK for seven years, having previously worked at L’Oreal in a variety of marketing and management roles. With Pharmaceuticals being the core of GSK’s business, it is unusual to have a CEO whose experience lies outside the core division – although the ability to review the division from a fresh perspective could well be advantageous.
The second quarter results were slightly ahead of consensus, giving Ms Walmsley a solid start to her tenure. Alongside the results she set out her key objectives for the first time, highlighting the need to prioritise improvement of the core Pharmaceutical division. In short, GSK needs to become better at developing and commercialising lucrative drugs. Despite launching high volumes of new drugs, the company has not seen many of these lead to huge sales. Indeed, GSK’s last “blockbuster” product release was the asthma treatment, Advair, which at its 2013 peak made up one-fifth of the group’s revenues.
Ms Walmsley therefore plans to strengthen the pipeline by a) increasing the amount spent on research & development, and b) channelling 80% of this spend on a narrower set of four therapy areas (Respiratory, HIV, Immuno-inflammatory and Oncology). She also plans to bring about a more dynamic/accountable commercial model to help the business make the most of its innovations.
With an enthusiastic, fresh CEO at the helm and a credible plan in place to increase productivity over the long term, GSK looks well set. However, it is fair to say that previous attempts to increase productivity and commercial success have not been entirely successful – and investors may therefore want to wait for some evidence of success before buying into Ms Walmsley’s vision.