GSK names Julie Brown, former Burberry executive, its first female CFO

Julie Brown, chief financial officer and chief operating officer at Burberry Group, will succeed Iain Mackay as GSK’s CFO, the U.K. pharmaceutical giant said Monday, with a transition planned next year alongside Mackay’s retirement.

Brown will join GSK in April 2023 as part of the transition and assume the full CFO’s job on May 1. As part of his retirement, Mackay will also step down from the board of directors.

As with CEO Emma Walmsley, who was named to her role from cosmetics company L’Oreal, Brown is coming from the retail sector. However, Brown also has an extensive background in the pharmaceuticals industry, having served in various roles at fellow U.K. drugmaker AstraZeneca, including interim CFO. She also held leadership positions at both Roche and the medical technology company Smith & Nephew.

Brown will be GSK’s first female CFO and with Walmsley, the first female CEO at a big pharma company, GSK will be the only one with women in the top two executive roles. Walmsley was named chief executive five years ago, but that hasn’t been followed by many other major drugmakers. Only Merck KGaA has appointed a woman, Belén Garijo, to the top spot.

“Julie is a highly experienced CFO with a tremendous understanding of the biopharma sector,” Walmsley said in a statement. “We also share a strong passion for people development, diversity, inclusion and sustainability.”

Brown’s appointment also comes weeks after GSK completed the spinoff of its consumer health division into Haleon, a transaction that was a long time in the making and was intended to help it focus on higher-profit prescription drugs and research into new medicines.

Investors will be looking for an improvement in company margins following the spin-off. Although sales of 6.9 billion pounds rose in the second quarter — up 13% at a constant exchange rate from the same period in 2021 — earnings per share were down amid increased business and research costs.

In 2021, Walmsley laid out an agenda for a post-split GSK that projected annual sales of 33 billion pounds by 2031. The company has been challenged, however, by activist investors Elliott Advisors, which claimed that GSK had “failed to capture business opportunities due to years of under-management.”

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