Changing of the guard at Novartis as Jimenez to step down

The CEO of Novartis, Joseph Jimenez, has announced he will be stepping down in 2018. After eight years at the helm, he will be replaced by Vasant Narasimhan.

This content was published on September 4, 2017 - 11:46 and agencies
Joe Jimenez in 2015. He will step down as CEO of Novartis next February. Keystone

The Swiss pharma group, based in Basel, announced the news in a statementExternal link on Monday morning. As of February 1, 2018, Jimenez will be replaced by his 42-year-old American compatriot Narasimhan, currently chief medical officer at the company.

Jimenez, who has been CEO since 2010, said that it was the right moment to hand over, citing his family, which is “ready to return to Silicon Valley and the US.”

In the company statement that came as something of a surprise, he said that he had spent “ten wonderful years in Switzerland” and that “Vas [for Vasant Narasimhan] will be an excellent successor.”

Jimenez will remain involved with the Basel-based company in an advisory and support role until retiring definitively from the company on August 31, 2018.


Jimenez first joined Novartis in 2007, after a career that included a stint as CEO for the North American and European branches of Heinz.

Since becoming Novartis CEO in 2010, he restructured the company around essential pharmaceutical niches, and is also credited with spearheading the elaboration of the Gleevec leukaemia drug, the hypertension treatment Diovan and Theraflu cold and flu treatment.

Vasant Narasimhan. Keystone

But several instances of closures and job cuts punctuated his tenure, most recently in May 2017, when it was announced that 500 positions would be shed over the coming years.

“Joe focused Novartis on leading global businesses, while divesting non-core divisions,” Chairman Jörg Reinhardt said in the statement. “Under his leadership, the innovation pipeline was rejuvenated, and we successfully navigated the patent expirations of our two largest products.”

Jimenez has also faced tough decisions on several of the Novartis subsidiaries and interests handed down to him by his predecessor, Daniel Vasella, who also founded the company.

These include Alcon, the eyecare division for which Novartis paid Nestlé $51.6 billion in 2010 but which subsequently performed well below expectation, and significant shares in rival companies Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.

The possible sale of such assets could bring in capital to reinvest in innovation and research, the Financial Times reported earlier this year, but are “vexing decisions” for the company. With Jimenez’s departure, they may be taken by his successor.

Next steps

Vasant Narasimhan, the future Novartis CEO, who holds degrees in Medicine and Business from Harvard, devoted time after his studies to health problems in developing countries. He worked for consulting firm McKinsey before coming to Basel in 2005.

Novartis seem likely to maximise his scientific knowledge: “The strength of Novartis is our ability to drive science-based innovation. Vas is deeply anchored in medical science, has significant experience in managing the interfaces between Research and Development and commercial units,” the statement read.

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