Johnson & Johnson has elected chief executive Alex Gorsky to also take on the role of chairman from Bill Weldon who is leaving the company after 41 years.

Mr Gorsky, who took over from Mr Weldon as CEO at the end of April, will assume the chairmanship from December 28, while the latter plans to retire in the first quarter of 2013, "following a brief transitional period". J&J presiding director James Cullen said that the board "gave thoughtful and rigorous consideration to our governance structure and determined that combining the chairman and CEO positions under the strong leadership of Alex Gorsky will benefit all our stakeholders".

J&J also said it is expanding the duties of its presiding director (who will be known as lead director) to include more involvement in "stakeholder communications, board and executive performance evaluations, agenda-setting and succession planning".

The news closes an eventful year for Mr Gorsky who beat Sherrie McCoy, previously head of J&J's pharmaceuticals and consumer groups, in a two-horse race for the CEO slot in the spring. Before getting that job, he was in charge of a number of areas, including the healthcare giant's medical devices and diagnostics group and global supply chain, with the latter suffering from thousands of recalls of over-the-counter medicines, including the children's analgesic Tylenol and Benadryl allergy tablets, as well as artificial hips.

Mr Gorsky has also had to deal with a number of lawsuits concerning allegations of illegally promoting its antipsychotic Risperdal (risperidone). One high-profile case, concerning a 21-year-old man suffering gynecomastia - the abnormal development of large mammary glands in males, was settled in September just after the judge rejected a bid by lawyers to get Mr Gorsky to testify.

Mr Gorsky is taking full control of a company that posted third-quarter net income of $2.97 billion, down 7.3%, though pharma sales were up 7.0% to $6.40 billion. The rise was driven by the anti-inflammatory Remicade (infliximab), and J&J's new prostate cancer treatment Zytiga (abiraterone).