The end of an era looms at AstraZeneca after the news that its chief financial officer of the last ten years, Jon Symonds, is resigning to become a managing director at Goldman Sachs, a move which is causing some concern among observers.
Mr Symonds is leaving at the end of July, having joined Zeneca as chief financial officer in 1997, where he almost immediately got involved in the negotiations to merge the company with Astra a year later. Chairman Louis Schweitzer paid tribute to Mr Symonds, saying that “he carries significant credit both for the success of the merger itself and for AstraZeneca’s sound financial performance since 1998”.
Mr Scheitzer added that “I regret Jon’s decision to leave AstraZeneca” and significantly the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker noted that “an external search is underway to identify a successor”. The fact that the firm does not have a ready-made successor in mind has made analysts a little uncomfortable given the timing of the departure of Mr Symonds, who lost out to David Brennan for the post of chief executive at AstraZeneca when Sir Tom McKillop stepped down two years ago.
The company is facing an uncertain future given that it has a very bare late-stage pipeline and a whole host of patent expiries to key products looming on the horizon. To deal with these problems, AstraZeneca has signed a number of collaborations recently and is acquiring MedImmune for $15.6 billion and although some analysts feel the firm is paying too much, they were somewhat reassured that Mr Symonds was the man controlling the purse-strings.
As for Mr Symonds, he told the Financial Times that his new job, beginning in September, would include work in the UK, on global pharmaceuticals and in private equity, noting that “pharmaceuticals and healthcare is probably the one area that private equity has not got its mind around because of the volatile profile of risk and reward. There are many, many opportunities to unpackage risks in a way that could not be done before.”
He also told the FT that he was “disappointed” not to have got the top job at AstraZeneca but stressed his good relations with Mr Brennan, saying that his decision reflected a desire to do something different.