Sykes calls time on 30-year career at Glaxo

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Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, is to retire in May after a career with the company which has spanned 30 years and taken in two of the pharmaceutical sector's biggest mergers.

His departure marks the end of the transition period following the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham, which was completed at the second attempt in 2000.

Sir Richard was the architect of Glaxo's transformation into Europe's largest drug maker, first through the merger with Wellcome shortly after he became chief executive in 1993, and then through the SmithKline deal, since when he has taken a non-executive role.

JP Garnier, who was promoted from the board of SmithKline Beecham to chief executive of GSK in December 2000, paid tribute to Sir Richard. "He has made a tremendous contribution to Glaxo, Glaxo Wellcome and GlaxoSmithKline, and is a strong and committed ambassador for the pharmaceutical industry, and a great champion of the UK science base," he said.

Sir Richard famously threatened to move Glaxo Wellcome to the US in protest at the introduction of Nice, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which was set up to vet drugs that could be used by the National Health Service.

He said he wanted to retire ahead of his 60th birthday in August, and would be concentrating on his role as rector of Imperial College, London.

Sir Richard will be replaced by Sir Christopher Hogg, currently a non-executive of GSK. Sir Christopher, 66, joined the board of SmithKline Beecham in 1993. He is also chairman of Reuters, the financial information group, and – until the end of this month – chairman of Allied Domecq, the drinks group.

His appointment was in part overshadowed by the news that German prosecutors are investigating claims that SmithKline Beecham bribed doctors to use its drugs in the late Nineties.

GSK said it would co-operate with the investigation but insisted it had heard nothing since the company was raided in May 2000. The claims first surfaced in 1999, and reports in the German press yesterday suggested that about 1,000 doctors took payments averaging between £300 and £1,000.