Bill Anderson to Be Bayer CEO from June 1

10.02.2023 - Bowing to growing pressure from activist investors with different missions, the supervisory board of tradition-steeped German pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals player Bayer has announced the appointment of a new CEO to succeed embattled incumbent Werner Baumann — a year before the end of the current chief executive’s regular term.

US citizen Bill Anderson, 56, until recently pharma CEO at Switzerland’s Roche, will join the Bayer managing board at beginning of April and step into the top slot on Jun. 1. In the two-month transition period, supervisory board chairman Norbert Winkeljohann said the new helmsman will work together with his predecessor, until the 60-year-old Baumann retires at the end of May.

A graduate of the University of Texas with a degree in chemical engineering, Anderson also holds degrees in chemical engineering and management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Over the past 25 years, he has held leadership positions in the life science industry in several countries, alongside Switzerland including the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium.

At Roche, the future Bayer chief is credited with spearheading a comprehensive transformation program that led to the development and launch of 25 new medicines, including 15 blockbusters, and was flanked by “significant revenue growth, and greater productivity across the organization.”

Prior to the stint at Roche, Anderson was CEO of Roche subsidiary Genentech. Earlier in his career, he worked for Biogen and held positions at US chemical and pharmaceutical companies,

Calling him “the ideal candidate to lead Bayer into a new, successful chapter at a time of a disruptive innovation cycle in biology, chemistry and artificial intelligence,” Winkeljohann said ”Bill Anderson’s mission is clear, to enable Bayer to realize its full potential and create sustainable value for our shareholders, farmers, patients, consumers, employees, and all stakeholders of the company.”

To fulfill that mission, voices commenting on the appointment noted that the new CEO may need the proverbial patience of Job and nerves of steel to calm investors’ current jitters and smooth the waves lashing at the company’s share price and public image.

The unpopular $63 million acquisition of US agriculture giant Monsanto, which was Baumann’s first priority after taking the reins seven years ago. has crushed the Bayer  share price, and triggered US lawsuits worth millions.

With the onset of litigation, activist investors began making the case for change and clamoring for Baumann’s ouster. Some began pressing — and still are — for a split-up of the pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals pillars, healthcare and crop science. Over the past several months, the cries have grown louder.

While the board at first appeared to oppose appointing a new leader before the current chief’s term formally ends in 2024, it has now emerged that negotiations about his replacement have been in progress since mid-2022 as critics continued to stew.

Since the beginning of 2023, the most vocal have been Bluebell Investment and the owner of investment fund Inclusive Capital, Jeffry Ubbens — both of which have acquired substantial shareholdings — in addition to Union Investment and Elliott Investment Management.

Some commenting on Anderson’s appointment said they thought his background in pharma could play a role in any decision to split up the company, or at least hive off the consumer health business, which some of the activist investors are calling for, as they successfully did at GSK.

German chemical conglomerates were once considered monoliths impossible to break up, but that has changed in recent years, starting with Hoechst under Jürgen Dormann, which split into several chunks, including the petrochemicals and plastics business Celanese. Some years later, Bayer split into three parts, with petrochemicals and plastics becoming part of Lanxess and what later became Covestro.

Though still a rarity, Anderson will not be Bayer’s first outsider or the first non-German to head the company, whose leadership has become increasingly international.  Dutch native Marijn Dekkers served as CEO of Bayer AG from Oct. 1, 2010 to Apr. 30, 2016, Irishman Liam Condon and the UK’s Patrick Thomas respectively headed Bayer CropScience and Bayer MaterialScience (Covestro).

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist