Despite senior management shake-up, Novartis’ pipeline is primed to deliver

Why the executive exodus at Novartis likely won’t derail CEO Narasimhan’s growth plans

A string of departures at Novartis AG and strategic shifts by new CEO Vasant Narasimhan have produced a fairly thorough makeover of the executive committee he inherited in 2018. The team gains a pipeline that is stocked with first-in-class agents and potential blockbusters -- dealing the newcomers a strong hand as they settle in.

In the space of two weeks, Novartis lost one executive team member and two other leaders, bringing to four the top level departures this year.

But it’s not all one-way traffic. Narasimhan been filling positions with internal and external talent, finding leaders with experience in growing commercial revenues and managing new modalities, both of which will be necessary ingredients for the pharma’s success.

In all, his executive team contains eight new faces since he took over as CEO, including two newly-created positions. Ten members of the team -- including himself and head of early R&D Jay Bradner -- have less than three years’ tenure. Bradner is President of Novartis Institutes of BioMedical Research (NIBR) (see Figure: “Shuffling the Deck at Novartis”).

The longest standing members lie outside of R&D and commercial operations -- CFO Harry Kirsch and Chief People and Organization Officer Steven Baert, who both joined the executive committee in 2014. 

Novartis says the shake-up won’t halt its momentum.

“We have a new, diverse leadership team in place that shares the same cultural and strategic aspiration and is committed for the longer term. Moreover, we have a good track record in managing leadership changes without disrupting the business,” the pharma said in an emailed statement to BioCentury.

The new executives have been handed a healthy portfolio.

In his 18 months, Narasimhan has added assets via licenses and acquisitions and expanded Novartis’ digital technologies, including the launch of the first digital

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