Scientists are the new stars of Europe

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The Independent Online
Goodbye to British technology and dot-com stars, and hello to environmentalists and leading biotechnology scientists.

Goodbye to British technology and dot-com stars, and hello to environmentalists and leading biotechnology scientists. That's the view of Business Week magazine as the US title publishes its "50 Stars of Europe" ­ a list of personalities who are defining the economic, political and cultural future of Europe ­ this weekend.

It makes interesting reading when compared to last year's picks. The magazine has booted out former dot-com whiz-kids such as Tim Jackson, founder of internet auction site QXL.com and former managing director of venture capitalist Carlyle Group's internet arm, and replaced them with scientists who have contributed to treating cancer and understanding genetic diseases.

There is even a list of "fallen stars" ­ last year's winners who have now fallen from grace. Mike Lynch, the founder of UK software company Autonomy, is relegated to this list. He was once seen as a British leader in the global technology market, but shares have slumped from over £40 to around £4 and the company recently sent out a profit warning.

John Rossant, the magazine's European editor who compiles the "Stars of Europe", says: "Last year we had a lot of dot-com people, but many of them have been blown out of the water. We recognise that people we thought were really great have stumbled in some way."

So this year the two leaders in innovation are in the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals sector ­ people who are heading Europe's battle to break the US's dominance in the area.

Swiss scientist Alex Matter is one of the ground-breakers. As head of the cancer research division of Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis, he has led a team who developed a treatment for leukaemia, Glivec. "Commercially we are not talking about a multi-million-dollar blockbuster, but in scientific terms the revolution in treating Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia by Glivec is a major, major development," says pharmaceuticals analyst Nigel Barnes of stockbroker Merrill Lynch.

Coming in second is Britain's Professor Sir Tom Blundell. He is seen as a leader in proteomics ­ finding the structure of proteins in the body and what they do. Without this, the Human Genome Project data on our DNA is pretty worthless. The company he founded, Astex Technology, has made a breakthrough in a method of discovering drugs that can target proteins. There are hopes that this will lead to treatments for previously untreatable diseases.

Despite the applause for biotech stars, internet-related firms have not been completely banished from the list.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou has been awarded for his entrepreneurial skills in setting up the Internet café chain easyEverything, as well as the low-cost airline easyJet and rental service easyRentacar ­ both sell products online. The magazine praises his successful linking of the old and new economies.

Another feature of a changing Europe is the focus on the environment, with more companies investing in green technology.

Peter Sullivan, a European market strategist at Goldman Sachs, says that environmental issues are becoming more important in European industry. "There have been moves in that direction ­ wind power in particular has been raised as an issue recently. The environment has been a growing theme in the past 10 years," he says.

To reflect this, Johannes Poulsen, who heads Vestas, a leading manufacturer of wind turbines, was honoured for the company's development of wind power technology.

European companies ­ traditionally considered scourges of the environment ­ are also developing greener products. For example, the environmentalists' hate-figure, BP, has re-branded itself and has solar power interests.

And Ferdinand Panik, at car manufacturer DaimlerChrysler, has been awarded for his work on fuel-cell technology. This will hopefully lead to cleaner cars which run on electricity. However, the company also features in the "fallen stars" section. Jürgen Schrempp, who heads the company and orchestrated the merger of DaimlerBenz and Chrysler, has failed to stem losses at the latter, with shareholders in revolt.

Europe is of course known for its state-owned services, although steps are being taken to modernise. The magazine wanted to highlight the flourishing of business in continental Europe within this culture.

"Europe is changing in a whole lot of different ways. One that strikes me is that you have this continental regulatory environment that is not pro-business. Taxes are high, there's a lot of labour regulations. Despite or because of it, you have companies that have an amazing ability to adapt themselves to difficult situations," says Mr Rossant.

Thierry Desmarest has exemplified this as the head of Total-FinaElf, the French oil company. TotalFina took over Elf Aquitaine last year, and the combined group announced a doubling in profits recently.

Yet the original Total and Elf were both state-owned stalwarts during the 1980s. Elf has symbolised the worst of state intervention in France ­ last week Roland Dumas, the former French foreign minister, was jailed for his part in a corruption scandal at the company.

Vivendi Uinversal's chairman, Jean-Marie Messier, has also transformed the business ­ from an old-style utilities conglomerate into a leading media company.

And Matti Alahuhta, the president of Nokia, moved the business to the forefront of wireless communications, from a slow-moving manufacturer of products such as tyres and wellington boots.

Consolidators have also been awarded. Fred "the shred" Goodwin, chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, was mentioned for his daring bid for NatWest and subsequent ruthless cost-cutting. Also mentioned was Jean-François Theodore, who heads Euronext, a merger of the Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels stock exchanges.

Although the magazine has highlighted businessmen, politicians are also picked for modernising governments throughout Europe.

Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor of Germany, is thought of as the lead "agenda setter".

"We think in terms of European policy and he is setting the trend. On the Continent he has tackled tax and pension reform in ways we thought not possible," said Mr Rossant.

He is also a leader in social democratic policy, marrying pro-business aims with socialist ideals.

"He thinks you can change the economic landscape to promote performance but let workers have a say," says Heather Grabbe, research director at the Centre for European Reform, an independent think-tank.

Although Tony Blair was snubbed, Gordon Brown came in second as an "agenda setter", for his role in making New Labour acceptable to business ­ ironic perhaps, as Chancellor Brown is known to be more euro-sceptic than Mr Blair.

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