Jean-François Dehecq, the charismatic co-founder of the group now known as Sanofi-Aventis, has stepped down as chairman, to be replaced by French businessman Serge Weinberg.

It was announced at the annual general meeting in Paris that Mr Dehecq is leaving after the best part of four decades at the helm of Sanofi because he has reached 70, the statutory age of retirement. He has, however, been appointed honorary chairman of the French drugmaker and will also head up the newly-created Sanofi Espoir Corporate Foundation, “dedicated to implementing health and solidarity
programmes worldwide”.

Mr Dehecq told stockholders that “37 years after the creation of Sanofi, I leave my post as chairman...after this new record year in terms of results. I leave with confidence in the collaboration of Serge Weinberg and [chief executive] Chris Viehbacher to lead Sanofi to further successes”.

Mr Weinberg, whose succession was originally announced at the end of December, was born in 1951. He is best-known for his ten-year stint as head of the retail/luxury group PPR (which owns Gucci) and serving as chairman at hotelier Accor. In 2005, he set up the investment firm Weinberg Capital Partners, which specialises in leveraged buy-outs and real estate.

Mr Dehecq spoke to the Financial Times ahead of the AGM and said that Sanofi under his leadership had outperformed many peers, on average delivering returns 2.5 times those of the CAC 40 index in France. He did admit to regrets about appointing former head of R&D Gerard Le Fur as chief executive (he was in the job for just 18 months) but said he fully supported Mr Viehbacher’s “more American” style and strategy.

“After a difficult passage, we have a policy of openness to the exterior. Chris has reconnected with our history,” Mr Dehecq concluded.