AstraZeneca chief urged to reveal departure date

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The Independent Online

Shareholders in beleaguered pharmaceutical giant Astra-Zeneca are demanding that the company come clean over when its chief executive, Sir Tom McKillop, will step down.

Shareholders in beleaguered pharmaceutical giant Astra-Zeneca are demanding that the company come clean over when its chief executive, Sir Tom McKillop, will step down.

During meetings with institutional shareholders earlier this month, Sir Tom, who has postponed his original plan to retire next month when he turns 62, was asked how long he intends to continue at the helm of the FTSE-100 company. His contract has been extended for an unspecified time.

But Sir Tom declined to discuss his succession with shareholders. "The board will decide when the time comes," he told one top-10 shareholder.

Now the board is under pressure to announce a succession policy at the company's annual general meeting in April.

Richard Singleton, the director of corporate governance at F&C Asset Management, an AstraZeneca shareholder, said: "Some clarity on the succession situation is needed. I hope there will be an update at the company's AGM."

The share price fell by 30 per cent last year after some of its most promising drugs failed to get regulatory approval. The share price has recovered slightly this year, but concerns remain about the company's strategy and the drugs still being developed, particularly Crestor, potentially a blockbuster, cholesterol-lowering medicine.

Shareholders do not want Sir Tom to step down now, but one warned: "He has got a year to turn it around. One more big disappointment and the game is up."

Headhunters have yet to be appointed to find a successor to Sir Tom, but this could take place soon after the shareholder meeting.

Sir Tom's contract has a one- year notice period, but it is understood that he would be prepared to step down in less than a year if a successor is found.

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