News & Analysis

GlaxoSmithKline board rebels against the vultures yet shares are still sinking

Andrew Saks, Friday, 23 July 2021

GlaxoSmithKline is one of those 'big pharma' companies that has made its way into the headlines over recent months for reasons other than being in the pocket of global government.

By contrast, the British healthcare and medicine development giant has been restructuring its operations by preparing to separate its consumer products division from its drug manufacturing business, as well as using considerable resources at senior executive level to fend off attempts by 'activist' investor and controlling shareholder Elliott Management which wants to oust the company's CEO Emma Walmsley.

Ms Walmsley has shown incredible resolve over recent weeks during the onslaught by Elliot Management which came on board as a significant shareholder in April this year by purchasing a multi-billion-pound stake in GlaxoSmithKline before suddenly embarking on a means of removing her from her position.

Boardroom shakeups are relatively commonplace within North American hedge funds that gain enough of a stake in a company to make controlling decisions and are known as 'activist investors', however it has been less common on the British side of the Atlantic until US hedge funds such as Elliott Management began to conduct the practice within its UK investments.

Not only has Ms Walmsley managed to come up with some very clever moves in order to fend off Elliott Management's attempts, including the recent unveiling of a plan to build a vast biotech center that will create 5,000 jobs, and some interesting mergers and acquisitions, but she has managed to steer the imminent split between the company's retail arm and its drug manufacturing division without having to apply for her own job.

This was achieved by defying Elliott Management's request and moving ahead with appointing a boss of the consumer arm ahead of its separation.

The pharmaceuticals company confirmed that Brian McNamara will stay in his role as head of the division when it is spun off and listed in its own right next year, against Elliott Management's recommendation for GSK to launch a six-month review of who should lead the division as well as another review into who should lead the remaining pharmaceuticals business.

One of Elliott Management's concerns and key factors in wishing to remove Ms Walmsley is the perception that GSK shares have been in the doldrums for a long time, stating that since Ms Walmsley took office, this has been the case, something Ms Walmsley acknowledges but is sure she can change.

Despite this victory for the executives over the activist investor, shares remain down, and have been stagnant this week before going down again this morning by 0.2%.

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