Sanofi’s second time lucky

It seems that Sanofi-Aventis, the French pharmaceutical group, is finally happy with its “succession planning”, after formally announcing plans for a new chairman to replace Jean-Francois Dehecq, the charismatic executive who built the company through dozens of mergers over three decades.

Mr Dehecq had previously modified the company’s statutes once to extend his mandatory retirement age, but this time – with his 70th birthday approaching and his own “dauphin” as chief executive replaced – he has relinquished the reins in favour of Serge Weinberg.

That maintains a separation of powers between the new French non-executive chairman and the German-Canadian chief executive, Chris Viehbacher, appointed last year: a rather more British than American (or traditionally French) approach to governance.

But Mr Weinberg, a product of the French elite political establishment and investment banking, is very different from his predecessor. Not only has he no experience in pharmaceuticals. He has a track record of resigning as head of from family-controlled businesses to which he has been appointed, at both the retailer and luxury goods group Pinault Printemps Redoute and the hotel business Accor.

That could suggest either stormy times ahead, or a victory for Mr Weinberg’s demand for a less family-dominated approach to capitalism, as Sanofi-Aventis bids adieu both to the strong influence of its founding chairman and the two largest shareholders which are a legacy of those past mergers – l’Oreal and Total.

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