GlaxoSmithKline will hold a summit with major shareholders next week as the board seeks to secure backing for chief executive Emma Walmsley and her plans to split the business.
The one-hour crunch meeting on October 7 will be spearheaded by the pharma giant’s chairman Jonathan Symonds and senior independent director Vindi Banga, who is also a senior partner at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, the private equity firm bidding for Morrisons.
Symonds will outline the finer details of the plan to spin off GSK’s consumer goods business and recruit a powerhouse board of directors to lead the soon-to-be separate entity onto the stock market.
The search for a chairman for the consumer goods firm is already under way, with a selection to be made before the end of this year.
There will also be more details on how GSK is planning to strengthen its own board by appointing directors with solid pharma pedigrees.
The meeting is seen as a key test for Walmsley, who is trying to win shareholder support for her turnaround plan and cling on to her position amid a campaign by activist investors Elliott Management and Bluebell Capital to make her re-apply for her job.
Both funds are challenging how GSK will split its consumer business, saying the segment should be sold as opposed to listed as a new company.
In June, Elliott fired a broadside at GSK by criticising years of share price underperformance and called on the firm to hire non-executive directors with expertise in pharma and consumer healthcare. Bluebell, a tiny hedge fund with a stake in GSK rumoured to be worth around £10m, joined Elliott’s campaign last week.
Despite its size, Bluebell earlier this year led a successful attempt to topple the chief executive of French food and drinks group Danone.
However, the activists’ campaign appeared to be on shaky ground, with a GSK spokesman insisting the vast majority of investors just wanted the company to ‘get on with it’ and not be distracted by other issues.
Several major GSK investors have publicly backed Walmsley’s leadership following Elliott Management’s attacks, with Royal London, M&G and Jupiter Asset Management having previously backed the embattled chief executive.
Support for Walmsley has also come from rival pharma firm Astrazeneca, with boss Pascal Soriot saying in August that she should stick to her guns.
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