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Business News

GSK chief quits after missing out on top job

GlaxoSmithKline's top North American director, who missed out on becoming the drug giant's chief executive this year, has given up as much as £2.5m in retention payments after resigning yesterday.

Chris Viehbacher, a 20-year GSK veteran, and head of pharmaceuticals in North America, was one of two internal candidates who lost out to Andrew Witty in the race to replace Jean-Pierre Garnier at the helm of the group in May. The other candidate to be overlooked, David Stout, has already left the company.

There was disquiet among some shareholders at the group's annual general meeting in May when a number of investors objected to the proposed compensation package for Mr Viehbacher, who will now not receive any of the bonuses designed to keep him at the company despite his disappointment.

A spokesperson for the group said that Mr Viehbacher would remain with the group until 1 December, but it is understood that he has already secured another job. His two operational deputies, Stan Hull and David Pernock, will report to Mr Witty until a permanent replacement is found. GSK said yesterday that it would be prepared to "look externally" for someone to fill the job.

Peter Cartwright, an analyst at Evolution Securities, said that Mr Viehbacher's departure had been likely following Mr Witty's appointment. "He was definitely seen as a potential CEO, and was certainly CEO material, but now that that has gone, I suspect he has been headhunted to run another drugs company," he said.

Mr Viehbacher joined Wellcome, which Glaxo subsequently bought in 1988, as an accountant in Germany, before serving as the group's chief executive in Canada between 1993 and 1995.

Mr Viehbacher joined the GSK board in January this year, and was appointed to his last job just four months ago.