Spotlight On... Leif Johansson, chairman designate of AstraZeneca

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I've not heard much about him before...

The appointment of Gothenburg-born Mr Johansson is a strengthening of the Swedish half of AstraZeneca's roots. We might think of the London-listed drug giant as British, but it was formed from the merger of Astra of Sweden and Zeneca of the UK, and still has research centres in the Nordic country.

So where's he been?

Its new chairman, Mr Johansson, who is to take the helm in September, when incumbent Louis Schweitzer retires, had a 14-year spell as chief executive of Volvo, the Swedish trucks group.

Lorries? Not much in common with pills and potions?

Not at Volvo, but Astra's new chair also had a non-executive directorship at the US pharmaceuticals firm Bristol-Myers Squibb from 1998 until last year. He has plenty of board experience, too, having been chairman of the world's biggest mobile network equipment maker, Ericsson, since last April. But he will face a pretty steep learning curve now.


Astra's got some health problems of its own. It's no surprise that the drug maker struggled to find a replacement for Mr Schweitzer, and was still saying as recently as last month that the 69-year-old might stay on longer than expected. The former Renault chairman will now get his retirement – while 60-year-old Mr Johansson will head the board as Astra faces its stark patent cliff.

Patent cliff? Isn't that when revenues take a dive?

Exactly. In the US, the world's biggest medicine market, the drug maker's heartburn medicine Nexium and anti-psychotic Seroquel, both fall out of patent in 2014. Together they had revenues of more than $10bn last year, and Astra doesn't have a huge number of new blockbusters in its pipeline. It wrote off $380m in December after two of its major new medicines failed to hit targets in late-stage clinical trials.

So he might have to crack open some headache pills?

Indeed, but unlike some of its rivals, Astra has avoided a push into over-the-counter medicines and other consumer goods.