Emma Walmsley is arguably the most influential woman in the pharmaceutical industry. She is currently Chief Executive Officer at GlaxoSmithKline, a leading pharmaceutical company based here in the United Kingdom. Walmsley inherited this position from her predecessor in April of 2017, having previously worked at GlaxoSmithKline since 2010, fulfilling various roles in the Consumer Healthcare field. Walmsley has since become the first female CEO to run a major pharmaceutical company. Walmsley topped Fortune Magazine’s list of the ‘Most Powerful International Women’ in business in 2018. This demonstrates her prowess in the pharmaceutical industry and business as a whole. Before this, she held various general managing and marketing roles in L’Oréal for 17 years, in Paris, London and New York.
Having broken through the so-called glass ceiling, many were sceptical whether she would be capable of applying herself to pharma. This was reflected in the city, with shares for GSK dropping at her appointment. However, Walsmley proved sceptics wrong, overhauling the senior management and bringing the principal focus back to R&D.
Walmsley has been described by colleagues as a ‘strong and dynamic’ leader, who mixes a personable style with a ‘steely’ focus. She sets clear goals and objectives and uses key performance indicators to measure delivery. She is known to pay close attention to talent development, and ‘be ruthless with underperformers.’ This leadership style has proved successful, with GSK performing well under her leadership.
GlaxoSmithKline has seen growth under Walmsley’s leadership. She is keen to focus on areas such as oncology, HIV and cancer. She aims to redraw the focus on pharma, their biggest business, which has the highest risk and highest return. When Walmsley became CEO back in April of 2017, her principal focus was in the research and development aspect of pharma, as she recognises that this is core to GSK. GSK allocated $5bn in this particular area in 2017, placing number 7 in the top ten pharma R&D spenders. Her focus has been on creating so-called ‘blockbuster’ drugs that make a real difference to the world.
In the end, she says that it doesn’t need to be a long and extensive list of medicines, but a list of medicines that will make a real difference. That is the ethos at GSK.