The Path to Power in Pharma

A Study of CEOs at the Top 50 Biopharmaceutical Companies

Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz
23 min readDec 18, 2018

Skip to the end for key highlights and analysis.

Biopharma leaders allocate billions in R&D funding. They decide which diseases will be studied, treated, and one day cured — and which will not.

They control drug prices, and therefore access to treatments for everything from cancer to diabetes. And they earn among the highest salaries of all executives, yet often go unnoticed compared to leaders in tech or finance.

Over the course of a life everyone uses biopharma products, but there are no good summaries of the CEOs at each of the top 50 biopharma companies.

What path did each CEO follow — or blaze — to reach such a vital role in the discovery, development and distribution of life-saving technologies?

Everyone can name top tech entrepreneurs (Bezos, Jobs, Zuckerberg) and corporate magnates (Branson, Buffett, Bloomberg), but outside biopharma, few can name Gorsky, Frazier, Gonzalez or Walmsley.

Regeneron out-earned SpaceX last year, but whereas everyone knows Elon Musk, outside biopharma few know Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron’s equally brilliant (some say equally unabashed) founder-CEO of 30 years.

Facebook bought WhatsApp in the largest venture-backed acquisition; but the second largest, AbbVie’s $10B Stemcentrx buyout, is less well-known than Facebook’s $1B acquisition of Instagram.

One company puts filters on selfies, the other pioneered a controversial new class of cancer therapies. Decisions by biopharma CEOs are often more consequential than those of their peers in other industries. So who are they?

The CEOs:

What follows are mini-bios of each CEO from the top 50 biopharma companies, ranked by 2017 prescription drug revenue. Note that J&J and Bayer fall lower than you may expect, as much of their revenue derives from CPG or agriculture.

Due to limited biopharma sales, I’ve also excluded Stryker (med-tech) and Zoetis (animal health). I have not combined Takeda and Shire, which merge next year. The list will be an ongoing project, which I plan to update and expand over time. Update (1/3/19): I have not combined BMS and Celgene, which merge in 2019.

  1. Pfizer ($45.4B): Ian Read, CPA (American, 65)

Read earned his BS in chemical engineering from Imperial College London (1974) and his CPA from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (1978). He joined Pfizer as an operational auditor in 1978 and worked in Latin America through 1995, with positions ranging from CFO of Pfizer Mexico to country manager of Brazil. In 1996, he became president of the international pharma group for Latin America and Canada, then EVP of Europe/Canada in 2000. He added Africa and the Middle East to his portfolio in 2004, Latin America in 2006, and became president of worldwide pharma operations that year. He became CEO in 2010 and is expected to retire in 2019 having spent 40 years at the company. Read most recently made the news by retreating on drug price hikes after a meeting with the President, then went ahead with hikes this quarter. Years at company before becoming CEO: 32

2. Novartis ($41.9B): Vas Narasimhan, MD (American, 42)

Narasimhan earned his BA in biology from University of Chicago (1998), his MD from Harvard Medical School (2002) and his MPP from Harvard Kennedy School (2003). He joined McKinsey as a consultant in 2002, then Novartis in 2007 as global head of the meningitis vaccines and diagnostics franchise. He rose through VP and president roles, becoming global head of vaccines and diagnostics development in 2012 followed by global head of development in 2014. He did a 5-month stint as global head for the Sandoz biopharma and oncology injectables division. He became global head of drug development and CMO in 2016, then CEO in 2018. He then had to immediately distance himself from his predecessor’s dubious, secretive contract with the President’s recently-convicted attorney. Years at company before becoming CEO: 11

3. Roche ($41.7B): Severin Schwan, JD (Austrian, 51)

Schwan earned his BA in economics from University of Innsbruck, University of York and University of Oxford (1991) and a JD from Innsbruck (1991), followed by a doctorate in law, also from Innsbruck (1993). He joined Roche as a trainee in corporate finance in 1993 and rose through the ranks of finance, administration and informatics. He became global head of finance and services within Roche Diagnostics in 2000 and chief of Roche Diagnostics in 2006. He became CEO in 2008, completed the acquisition of Genentech in 2009 and led the unsuccessful bid to buy Illumina in 2012. He then joined the Roche board in 2013. Years at company before becoming CEO: 15

4. Merck ($35.4B): Ken Frazier, JD (American, 64)

Frazier earned his BA from Penn State (1974) and JD from Harvard (1978). He joined the law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath — where Merck was a client — and became a partner. He then joined Merck in 1992 as general counsel of the public affairs division. He became senior general counsel in 1999, overseeing Merck’s notorious defense against the Vioxx liability lawsuits. He became EVP in 2006 while still general counsel, led the human health group starting in 2007 and became president in 2010. He became CEO in 2011, the first-ever African-American to lead a major pharma. He resigned from the President’s manufacturing council in protest over last year’s Charlottesville riots. Years at company before becoming CEO: 19

5. Sanofi ($34.4B): Olivier Brandicourt, MD (French, 62)

Brandicourt earned his MA in biology and MD from the University of Paris. He won an advanced degree in cellular and immunological pathophysiology from Paris Descartes University. He spent two years as a doctor in the Congo and eight years in malaria research at the Institute of Infectious and Tropical Diseases at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. He became a medical director at Warner-Lambert/Parke-Davis and rose through medical and marketing roles to become general manager of Canada. When Pfizer acquired the company, he became president and general manager of emerging markets and established products, then president and general manager of global specialty care and primary care. He rose to president and general manager of primary care in 2011. In 2013, he became the CEO of Bayer, then in 2015 became the CEO of Sanofi. Years at company before becoming CEO: 3

6. Johnson & Johnson ($34.1B): Alex Gorsky, MBA (American, 58)

Gorsky earned his BS at West Point (1982) and served 6 years as an Army Ranger before an honorable discharge as a Captain. He joined the Janssen division of J&J as a sales rep in 1988 and rose through the ranks of marketing and management — picking up an MBA from Wharton in 1996 — before becoming president of Janssen in 2001. He was company group chairman of J&J’s European, Middle East & Africa pharma business in 2003, but left J&J in 2004 to join Novartis as the head of the company’s North American pharma business. He returned to J&J in 2008 as company group chairman for Ethicon, then worldwide chairman of J&J medical devices and diagnostics in 2009. In 2011, he became vice chairman of J&J’s executive committee, and then CEO and chairman in 2012. Years at company before becoming CEO: 20

7. GlaxoSmithKline ($28.7B): Emma Walmsley (British, 49)

Walmsley earned her BA and MA in classics and modern languages from Oxford. She worked at L’Oreal in marketing and management, leading consumer products in China. She joined GSK in 2010 as president of consumer health for Europe, then became chief of consumer healthcare in 2015. She became CEO in 2017, the first woman to run a top pharma and potentially signaling GSK’s increased focus on consumer health. Years at company before becoming CEO: 7

8. AbbVie ($27.7B): Richard Gonzalez (American, 64)

Gonzalez did most of an (ultimately incomplete) BA in biochemistry at the University of Houston, followed by an incomplete MA at University of Miami, also in biochemistry. He joined Abbott in 1977 and worked in commercial operations, R&D and manufacturing. He became COO and retired in 2007, before returning as president of the medical devices venture group in 2009. He then became EVP of the pharma products group, the #2 executive role at Abbott. When AbbVie spun out of Abbott in 2013, Gonzalez became AbbVie’s CEO. Years at company before becoming CEO: 36

9. Gilead ($25.7B): John Milligan, PhD (American, 57) — retiring in 2019

Milligan earned his BA in STEM at Ohio Wesleyan University and his PhD at the University of Illinois. He did a postdoctoral fellowship with the American Cancer Society at UCSF and two years of research at University of Colorado Boulder. He joined Gilead in 1990 as a junior research scientist, Gilead’s 32nd employee. He became director of project management for the Tamiflu collaboration with Roche in 1996, then VP of corporate development in 2000 and president in 2008. He became COO, CFO, and director of the Pharmasset division in 2012 and the Pacific Biosciences division in 2013. He became CEO in 2017, but will retire next year, to be replaced by Daniel O’Day from Roche. Years at company before becoming CEO: 27

10. Amgen ($21.8B): Robert Bradway, MBA (American, 55)

Bradway earned his BS in biology from Amherst and his MBA from Harvard. He joined Morgan Stanley in 1985 as an investment banker in the health care division. He became a managing director of banking and corporate finance, then of corporate finance management. He joined Amgen in 2006 as VP of operations strategy and rose to EVP and CFO in 2007. He became president and COO in 2010, joined the board in 2011, and became CEO in 2012. He also became chairman in 2013. Years at company before becoming CEO: 6

11. AstraZeneca ($19.8B): Pascal Soriot, MBA (French, 59)

Soriot earned his degree in veterinary medicine from the National Veterinary School of Alfort and his MBA from HEC Paris. He joined the French pharma company Roussel Uclaf in 1986 as a sales rep in Australia. After Roussel Uclaf was acquired by Hochst in 1997, he became a general manager in Australia, then Tokyo. He joined Aventis in 2000, moved to the US, and became Aventis COO in 2002. He joined Roche in 2006 and became chief of the Genentech division in 2009, then became Roche COO that year. In 2012, he left Roche to become the CEO of AstraZeneca. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

12. Bristol-Myers Squibb ($19.3B): Giovanni Caforio, MD (Italian, 53)

Caforio earned his MD from University of Rome (1988) and joined Abbott in 1988 as a clinical research associate. He became a medical director in the division of international medical affairs in 1990, then director of international marketing in 1994, marketing director for Spain in 1995, and general manager for Portugal in 1998. He joined BMS in 2000 as VP and general manager for Italy, then VP of southeast Europe in 2002, SVP of Europe marketing and brand commercialization in 2004, SVP of US oncology in 2007, SVP of global oncology and immunology in 2010, president of US pharma in 2011, EVP and CCO in 2013 and COO in 2014. He became CEO in 2015 and chairman in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 17

13. Eli Lilly ($18.5B): David Ricks, MBA (American, 50)

Ricks earned his BS in industrial management at Purdue (1990), worked as an account rep at IBM for 3 years and earned his MBA from Indiana University (1996). He joined Eli Lilly in 1996 as a BD associate, became a marketing manager in 1998, a district sales manager in 2001, a marketing director for Canada in 2002, VP of sales for Canada in 2004, and general manager of Canada in 2005. He switched to president and general manager of China in 2008, then president of US in 2010 and president of biomedicines in 2012. He became CEO, president and chairman in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 21

14. Teva ($18.3B): Kåre Schultz (Danish, 57)

Schultz earned his BA in economics from University of Copenhagen (1987). He joined Andersen Consulting as a consultant and then moved to McKinsey. He joined Novo Nordisk in 1989, worked as director of product planning and customer services in the diabetes care division, rose to EVP of staff and quality in 2000, and became COO in 2002. He became the president and vice-CEO of Novo Nordisk in 2015. He joined Lundbeck as CEO in 2015, then Teva as CEO in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

15. Bayer ($17.5B): Werner Baumann (German, 56)

Baumann earned his degree in economics at Aachen University and the University of Cologne. He joined Bayer in 1988 in the finance department, then as a supervisory board assistant in the Spanish business division. He became CFO and chief of strategy, leading the Schering acquisition in 2006. He became CEO in 2016, immediately launching the Monsanto acquisition. Years at company before becoming CEO: 18

16. Novo Nordisk ($17.0B): Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, MBA (Danish, 52)

Jørgensen earned his MBA at Aarhus University (1991). He joined Novo Nordisk as director of finance and administration in 2000, VP of regional finance for Japan and Asia Pacific in 2001, SVP of IT and corp-development in 2004, EVP of IT, quality assurance and corp-development in 2013, and EVP of corp-development, HR and business assurance in 2014. He became president and CEO in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 17

17. Allergan ($14.9B): Brent Saunders, JD, MBA (American, 48)

Saunders earned his BA in economics and East Asian studies from the University of Pittsburgh (1992), an MBA from Temple University (1996) and a JD from Temple University (1996). He co-founded the Health Care Compliance Association in 1995 and became chairman of the New York chapter of the American Heart Association. He served on the transition team for then-New Jersey Governor-elect Chris Christie. He became the chief of compliance for Coventry Health Care and the Thomas Jefferson University Health System. He became SVP of compliance at Home Care Corp and chief risk officer for Coventry Health Care in 1998. He became a partner at PwC in 2000 and joined Schering-Plough in 2003 as head of compliance advisory services. He became president of global consumer health care and then head of integration during the merger with Merck. He became chief of Bausch & Lomb in 2010 and a special advisor to General Atlantic. He became chief of Forest Laboratories in 2013 and director of Actavis in 2014, then CEO of Allergan following the acquisition-merger with Actavis in 2015. Saunders was responsible for the Regis-Mohawk patent gambit in 2017, which was reversed in court earlier this year. Years at company before becoming CEO: 2

18. Shire ($14.5B): Flemming Ørnskov, MD, MPH, MBA (Danish, 60)

Ørnskov earned his MD from University of Copenhagen (1984), his MBA from INSEAD (1990) and his MPH from Harvard (1996). He became the global president of pharma and OTC at Bausch & Lomb in 2008 and chief marketing officer, global head, strategic marketing for general and specialty medicine at Bayer in 2010. He became CEO of Shire in 2013. Years at company before becoming CEO: 3

19. Boehringer Ingelheim ($14.3B): Wolfgang Baiker, MD, PhD, MBA (German, est. early-60s)

Baiker earned his MD-PhD from the collective Universities of Bochum, Berlin, Ulm, Munich and Sheffield, then earned his MBA from Pace University. He joined BI in 1989 as section head for clinical development, then leader of clinical development and clinical research. He became head of international project management, head of global development, manager of corporate board division biopharma and operations, and then human pharma executive committee. He became SVP of human pharma supply and global quality and head of biopharma business and then CEO in 2018. Years at company before becoming CEO: 29

20. Takeda ($13.6B): Christophe Weber, PhD (American, 52)

Weber earned his BA in statistics, MA in pharmaceutical marketing and PhD in pharmacy and pharmacokinetics from University of Lyon. He joined GSK as SVP of Asia Pacific and regional director of Asia Pacific in 2008, then rose through president and general manager at GSK vaccines, chief of GSK biologics in Belgium, and member of the GSK executive team. He joined Takeda in 2014 as COO, became president later that year and became CEO in 2015. Years at company before becoming CEO: 2

21. Celgene ($12.9B): Mark Alles (American, 58)

Alles earned his BS from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and served as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps. He worked at Bayer and then Centocor prior to its J&J acquisition. He joined Aventis in 1993, becoming a senior commercial manager, then VP of the US oncology business. He joined Celgene in 2004 as VP of global marketing, then became president of global marketing in 2008, president of the Americas, Japan and Asia Pacific in 2009, EVP and chief commercial officer in 2012, EVP and global head of hematology and oncology in 2012, and then president and COO in 2014. He became CEO in 2016 and chairman in 2018. Years at company before becoming CEO: 12

22. Mylan ($11.5B): Heather Bresch (American, 49)

Bresch earned her BA in political science and international relations at West Virginia University (1991). She joined Mylan as a factory clerk in 1992 and rose through the ranks to become CEO in 2012, but her progression seems intentionally undisclosed and her recent tenure is marked by pricing scandals. Years at company before becoming CEO: 20

23. Astellas ($10.9B): Kenji Yasukawa, PhD (Japan, 58)

Yasukawa earned his MS in agricultural science from the University of Tokyo (1986) and PhD in pharmaceutical sciences from Showa University (2001). He joined Astellas in 1986. He became VP of project management for urology in 2005, head of urology in 2010, VP of product and portfolio strategy in 2011, SVP of product and chief strategy officer in 2012, and chief strategy officer, CCO and EVP in 2017. He became CEO in 2018. Years at company before becoming CEO: 32

24. Biogen ($10.4B): Michel Vounatsos, MBA (French, 56)

Vounatsos earned a non-MD medical degree from the University of Bordeaux (1988) and his MBA from HEC Paris (1989). He joined Ciba-Geigy as a marketing assistant in 1990 and became head of the scientific office in Saudi Arabia in 1992. He joined Merck as a director of marketing development in 1996, became a managing director in Poland, then a managing director in Belgium and Luxembourg in 2002. He became president of France and SVP of Europe in 2006, president of China in 2008, chairman and president of China in 2012, president of customer centricity in 2012, and president of primary care and customer centricity in 2014. He left Merck to become EVP and CCO at Biogen in 2016. He became CEO in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 21

25. CSL Behring ($7.5B): Paul Perreault, MBA (American, 59)

Perreault earned his BA in psychology from University of Central Florida and MBA from Kellogg and Wharton. He worked 16 years at Wyeth, then joined Aventis Behring to become VP and general manager of plasma operations followed by VP and general manager of hospital products in North America and Puerto Rico. He joined CSL Behring in 2004 when CSL acquired Aventis Behring, working first as EVP of worldwide commercial operations and then as president. He became CEO and managing director in 2013. Years at company before becoming CEO: 9

26. Daiichi Sankyo ($7.4B): Joji Nakayama, MBA, PhD (Japanese, 68)

Nakayama earned his PhD in biological engineering from Graduate School of Osaka University (1976) and his MBA from Kellogg (1979). He joined U3 Pharma as a member of the supervisory board. He joined Daiichi Sankyo as a representative director in 2002, then general manager of EU/US business management and president of Japan business. He became president and CEO in 2010 and chairman in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 15

27. Merck KGaA ($6.9B): Stefan Oschmann, PhD (German, 60)

Oschmann earned his PhD in veterinary medicine from Ludwig Maximilian University. He joined the IAEA and then German Animal Health Federation. From 1989 to 2011 he worked at Merck (the US-based one, not Merck KGaA), as VP of Central and Eastern Europe, VP of Europe, managing director of Germany, SVP of worldwide human health marketing, president for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Canada, and president of emerging markets in 2009. He switched to Merck KGaA in 2011 as an executive board member. He became vice chairman and deputy CEO in 2015, then CEO in 2016. Years at company before becoming CEO: 5

28. Otsuka ($5.3B): Kazumichi Kobayashi (Japanese, est. late-50s)

Kobayashi earned his pharmaceutical degree from Gifu Pharmaceutical University. He joined Otsuka in 1982 as regulatory affairs staff. He joined Otsuka America in 1996 as international regulatory affairs coordinator. He became director of regulatory affairs back in Japan in 2000. He became CEO in 2007. Years at company before becoming CEO: 36

29. Bausch Health, né Valeant ($5.1B): Joseph Papa, MBA (American, 63)

Papa earned his BA in pharmacy from University of Connecticut (1978) and MBA from Kellogg (1983). He joined Novartis as VP of marketing in 1983, then Searle as president of US in 1997, Dupont as COO in 2001, Watson Pharma as president in 2001, Cardinal Health as president in 2004, and Perrigo as chairman and CEO in 2006. He became chairman and CEO of Valeant in 2016. Valeant then changed its name to Bausch Health in 2018 following a series of controversies. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

30. UCB ($4.6B): Jean-Christophe Tellier, MD (French, 62)

Tellier earned his MD at University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, a postdoc in rheumatology at University of Paris, and completed executive business programs at Harvard and INSEAD. He joined Novartis in 1989 in sales and marketing, rose to become head of the global franchise in arthritis, bone and muscle disease, then chief for Belgium and chief for France. He joined Macrogenics in 2008 as EVP and CCO. He joined Ipsen as president and general manager of North American operations in 2009. He joined UCB in 2011 as EVP of brands and solutions, then became CEO in 2015. Years at company before becoming CEO: 4

31. Servier ($4.6B): Olivier Laureau (French, 61)

Laureau’s educational info is undisclosed and pending. He joined Servier in 1982 as an international legal affairs department manager, then purchasing director in 1989. He became CFO in 2008, then president and CEO in 2014. Years at company before becoming CEO: 32

32. Eisai ($4.4B): Haruo Naito, MBA (Japanese, 70)

Naito earned his BA from Keio University (1972) and MBA from Kellogg (1974). He joined Eisai in 1975. He became senior director of the R&D promotion department in 1983, general manager of R&D in 1985, senior managing director in 1986, deputy president in 1987 and president in 1988. He became CEO in 2003 and chairman in 2006. Years at company before becoming CEO: 31

33. Abbott ($4.3B): Miles White, MBA (American, 63)

White earned his BA in mechanical engineering and his MBA at Stanford. He joined McKinsey as a consultant. He joined Abbott in 1984, rising to SVP of diagnostic operations and EVP. He joined the board in 1998, became CEO in 1998 and chairman in 1999. Years at company before becoming CEO: 14

34. Sun ($4.2B): Dilip Shanghvi (Indian, 62)

Shanghvi earned a BA in commerce from University of Calcutta. He worked with his father in the wholesale generic drugs business and then founded Sun Pharma in 1982 with Pradeep Ghosh. He stepped down as chairman and CEO in 2012 to become managing director, with no new CEO, leaving him still in the top executive position today. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

35. Fresenius ($4.1B): Bill Valle (American, 57)

Valle earned his BA at Clarkson University. He worked at Gambro Healthcare after college, then joined Fresenius. He quickly rose to become EVP and then president of medical services, then became CEO in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 8

36. Grifols ($3.9B): Raimon Grifols, JD + Victor Grifols, MBA [co-CEOs] (Spanish, 54 and 41)

Raimon earned his JD from University of Barcelona and became a partner at the Spanish law firm Osborne Clarke. He joined the family business Grifols as non-member secretary of the board in 2001 and director and vice-secretary of the board in 2015. He became executive director in 2016 and co-CEO in 2016. Years at company before becoming CEO: 16

Victor earned his BA in business and management from Ramon Llull University and MBA from Michael Smurfit Business School in Dublin. He joined the family business Grifols in 2001 as an analyst in the planning and control department. He became the director of planning and control and member of the executive committee in 2008. He became executive director in 2016 and co-CEO in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 16

37. Regeneron ($3.7B): Len Schleifer, MD, PhD (American, 65)

Schleifer earned his BS from Cornell and his MD-PhD from the University of Virginia. He trained to become a neurologist and served as a junior faculty member at New York Hospital. He then co-founded Regeneron with George Yancopoulos in 1988 and has served as CEO for 30 years. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

38. Chugai ($3.7B): Osamu Nagayama, MBA(Japanese, 71)

Nagayama earned his BA in business and commerce from Keio University (1971). He joined the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan in 1971 and Chugai in 1978. He rose to become director of pharma sales and marketing and international business in 1983 and a director in 1985. He became president, COO and CEO in 1992, relinquishing COO and becoming chairman in 2012. Chugai is independent, but 62%-owned by Roche. Years at company before becoming CEO: 14

39. Alexion ($3.6B): Ludwig Hantson, PhD (Belge, 56)

Hantson earned his PhD in motor rehabilitation and PT from University of Louvain. He became the president and CEO of Baxalta. Following the Baxalta acquisition by Shire, Hantson became CEO of Alexion. More details pending. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

40. Sumitomo Dainippon ($3.5B): Masayo Tada (Japanese, 74)

Tada earned his BA from University of Tokyo. He joined Sumitomo after his undergraduate degree, rising to become managing executive officer for agricultural chemicals and plant protection, then VP. He became president and CEO in 2008. Years at company before becoming CEO: est. 30.

41. Endo ($3.5B): Paul Campanelli (American, 56)

Campanelli earned his BS from Springfield College (1984), then joined Dr. Reddy’s in 1991 as VP of formulations (unclear what he did for 5 years — will update). He moved to Par Pharma in 2001 as president. At Par, he became the COO in 2010, CEO in 2012 and president in 2015. When Endo acquired Par in 2016, he became the president and CEO of the merged company Endo. Years at company before becoming CEO: 15

42. Mallinckrodt ($3.1B): Mark Trudeau, MBA (American, 57)

Trudeau earned his BS in chemical engineering (1983) and his MBA (1988) from the University of Michigan. He joined Eli Lilly as a process and R&D engineer in 1983 and Dupont as a process engineer in 1985. He joined Abbott in 1988 as a sales rep, then product manager in neuroscience, product manager in anti-infectives, director of market research, director of immunoscience marketing, and then director of neuroscience marketing. He joined BMS as VP of US infectious disease marketing in 1998. He became VP of immunology global marketing in 2000, commercial director for the UK in 2001, managing director for the UK in 2003, president and general manager for Canada in 2003, regional president for Asia Pacific in 2004, and SVP of immunoscience US pharmaceuticals in 2008. He joined Bayer as president of global specialty medicine in 2009 and then became president. He became the CEO of Bayer in 2010, then the president and SVP of Covidien at Mallinckrodt in 2012. He became president and CEO of Mallinckrodt in 2013. Years at company before becoming CEO: 1

43. Menarini ($3.1B): Albert Lim (Singaporean, est. 56)

Lim earned his BA in chemical engineering (1984). He spent 10 years in IT, then joined Merck as a business unit director in Taiwan in 2000. He joined Novartis as senior marketing director in Taiwan in 2004, then president and director in Indonesia in 2006. He joined Medtronic as managing director in China in 2008, then became VP of business operations in 2009. He joined Sonova Group as SVP in 2013. He became CEO of Menarini in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0.

44. Aspen Pharmacare ($2.6B): Stephen Saad (South African, 54)

Saad earned his BA in commerce from University of Natal. He first joined the prescription drug distribution company Quickmed. He then co-founded Aspen Pharmacare in 1997 with Gus Attridge and became CEO. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

45. Mitsubishi Tanabe ($2.6B): Masayuki Mitsuka (Japanese, 65)

Mitsuka’s educational info is pending. He worked at a handful of companies including Zoegene, then became general manager of global products strategy at Mitsubishi Tanabe. He became the general manager of BD&L and IP, then general manager of medical science and division manager of development. He became CEO in 2014. Years at company before becoming CEO: 9

46. Vertex ($2.5B): Jeffrey Leiden, MD, PhD (American, 62)

Leiden earned his BA in biology, PhD in virology and MD from University of Chicago. He became a clinical fellow in cardiology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and then a postdoc at Dana-Farber. He became an assistant professor of medicine and an assistant investigator at the HHMI at University of Michigan, where he became a professor in 1992. In 1999 he became a professor of biology at the Harvard School of Public Health and a professor of medicine at HMS. He joined Abbott in 2000 as SVP and CSO, then became president and COO. He joined Clarus Ventures as a managing director in 2006. He joined Vertex as chairman, president and CEO in 2012. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0

47. Ono Pharma ($2.4B): Gyo Sagara (Japanese, 60)

Sagara earned his BA in commerce from Osaka Prefecture University (1973) and joined Ono in 1983. He was previously a director of sales, then director of operations and business. He rose to managing director and VP, which is an especially high role at Ono. He became CEO in 2008. Years at company before becoming CEO: 25

48. Lupin ($2.3B): Vinita Gupta, MBA (Indian, 50)

Gupta earned her BA in pharmacy from University of Mumbai and her MBA from Kellogg. She joined Lupin in 1993, became a director in 2001 and then managing director in 2003. She became president in 2010 and CEO in 2013. Years at company before becoming CEO: 10

49. Kyowa Hakko Kirin ($2.3B): Nobuo Hanai, PhD (Japanese, 65)

Hanai earned his BA in pharmaceutical science from University of Tokyo and his PhD in pathology from Yamaguchi University. He completed postdoctoral training in business at Waseda University and in biochemical oncology at Fred Hutchinson. He joined Kyowa in 1976, became president and CEO of Kyowa subsidiary BioWa in 2003, executive managing officer in 2009 and executive director in 2012. He became CEO in 2012 and chairman in 2018. Years at company before becoming CEO: 36

50. Ferring Pharma ($2.2B): Paul Navarre (French, 49)

Navarre earned his degree in business from ISC Paris Business School (1991). He joined the consumer division at P&G in 1991 and transitioned to pharma, becoming a country manager. He joined Allergan in 2007 as a marketing director, then became a managing director and VP of ophthalmology. He added neurosciences in 2012 and became VP and then president of neurosciences for Europe, the Middle East and Africa in 2013. He became international president in 2014 and then joined Ferring as CEO in 2017. Years at company before becoming CEO: 0



More than a third are Americans, with one Indian-American (Narasimhan), one Latino-American (Gonzalez) and one African-American (Frazier). Nine of the ten Japanese companies — all except Takeda — are Japanese-led. Six CEOs are French and three each Danish, Indian or German. There is one each from Austria, Scotland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, South Africa, England and Singapore.

The average age is 58, with a range from 42 (Narasimhan) to 74 (Tada). Only three companies are led by women, which means that there are more than twice as many Japanese men over 60 as female CEOs overall. Of the women, there is one American (Bresch), one British (Walmsley), and one Indian (Gupta).


Young people in biopharma are often told they need an advanced scientific or medical degree to succeed in the industry. However, this is not supported by leadership data from the top 50 companies.

35 of the CEOs have no advanced scientific or medical degree. In fact, there are six times as many CEOs with no graduate degree at all (18) as there are CEOs with an MD-PhD (3). MBAs are by far the most common higher education (18), followed by PhDs (10), MDs (8), and JDs (4).

The cliché that young folks in biopharma need to start with an MD or a PhD may be true if your goal is a career in R&D, but otherwise, do what you are actually passionate about, not what you feel is a required stepping stone.


The typical path to CEO of a top 50 biopharma company goes something like this: a college STEM degree, an MBA or entry-level job in sales or operations, followed by a couple decades of conventional upward mobility through management roles of increasing geographic and financial responsibility.

Most of the PhDs started in R&D, but made an early jump to management rather than staying in research. Only one CEO, the MD-PhD Jeffrey Leiden, was previously a CSO. MDs predictably started out in medical divisions, but also focused on entering management early on.

The corporate ladder is unsurprising: first a country manager or a director of a minor franchise, then head of sales for a region or head of development for a small division, VP of sales or operations or R&D, and then the analogous promotion into a role as SVP, EVP or president of a continent or franchise.

From there, many leaders join the C-suite as either COO or CFO; a few leap directly to CEO. Most companies recruit internally (38), usually from the existing C-suite (21) versus non-C-suite management roles (17). Internal hires spent an average of 17 years at the company prior to being CEO.

Of the nine external hires, eight were from the C-suite of another company (half were prior CEOs). Albert Lim is the only leader to leap from a non-C-suite role at another company (SVP, Sonova) to top 50 CEO (at Menarini).

Only three of the 50 CEOs founded the company — Schleifer (Regeneron), Shanghvi (Sun), and Saad (Aspen). None of these former startups or their founder-CEOs have entered the top 30.

Looking Ahead:

No Chinese companies or CEOs made the top 50 but this will change fast. I expect (or at least hope) to see an increase in the number of female CEOs, as well as more racially-diverse C-suites. Lundbeck, led by its new female CEO Deborah Dunsire, will likely enter the top 50 within the next couple years.


Mostly SEC filings, company websites, LinkedIn or Bloomberg profiles and industry news. I’ll update regularly based on further research and pending FOIA requests, as some degrees and early work histories are undisclosed.

Feel free to contact me with questions, corrections or insights.




Nathaniel Brooks Horwitz

Biotech entrepreneur + healthcare activist. Venture Partner at RA Capital. President at Mayday Health. Co-founder of 4 companies, served on boards of 12.