GSK chief executive Emma Walmsley has faced criticism for the slow roll-out of Covid vaccines and wider management issues

London (AFP) - The head of the British pharmaceutical giant GSK, Emma Walmsley, will present the company’s quarterly results on Wednesday as criticism mounts over ineffective management and delays in Covid-19 vaccine production.

She is one of a small number of women to lead a large UK company and has become a fixture of global business circles after boosting GSK’s research efforts.

The 52-year-old Briton was appointed to the helm of the pharmaceutical heavyweight in 2017 and has navigated it through the storm of the global pandemic, during which time it has fallen behind in the development of a vaccine.

GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) has said it hopes to launch its own jab, developed by France’s Sanofi, at the end of 2021, trailing in the wake of Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, which was an early mover in the market despite having little prior experience in vaccine development.

As the company faces Covid-19 headwinds, Walmsley has said she aims to completely reshape it with the creation of a “new GSK”, separate from its over-the-counter and drugstore business.

It will refocus on infectious diseases, oncology and respiratory diseases, promising its shareholders increased sales and profitability under the plans.

GSK’s financial performance has slumped during the pandemic.

As the coronavirus has become a priority over other health concerns, the company has seen lower sales for other treatments including antibiotics and other vaccines, like Shingrix for shingles.

Walmsley’s remuneration has also been cut for 2020, to £7 million ($9.7 million, 8 million euros) from £8.1 million in 2019.

As GSK tries to put the struggles of the pandemic behind it and deliver Walmsley’s vision for the future, investment by the US activist fund Elliott Management has brought more complications.

The US investor intends to take advantage of shareholder dissatisfaction with the group’s lacklustre stock market performance, and has even suggested a replacement for Walmsley be considered.

Britain's GSK is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world

But the board of directors and some major shareholders have sided with Walmsley, at least temporarily putting out the fire.

“I’m genetically blessed with stamina and a degree of resilience,” she told the Sunday Times at the end of June, referring to her father who was a senior Royal Navy officer.

According to the newspaper, Walmsley is also known for her discipline. Her appointments are timed to the minute and she has been known to leave business dinners at 9:00 pm sharp.

- ‘Unafraid’ -

The former head of French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, where she spent 17 years, Walmsley has come under fire in the past, including criticisms over her lack of experience in the pharmaceutical sector.

“I think having a fresh set of eyes is actually something that helps a lot,” Walmsley said in her own defence in an interview with the Financial Times in 2017.

Born and brought up in Lancashire, northwest England, and a graduate of Oxford University, she was made a dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2020, 10 years after joining GSK and running its consumer healthcare business before taking the firm’s top job.

Under her leadership, GSK has been trying to revive itself, cleaning up its medicines development business after years of underperformance and increased competition.

The group, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, has 12,000 employees, generates £34 billion in sales and is valued at £70 billion.

Married with four children, Walmsley is one of only a handful of women to head a group listed on the London Stock Exchange’s flagship FTSE-100 index alongside Alison Rose, the head of NatWest bank, and Carolyn McCall, head of ITV.

“I don’t want that to be the thing I’m most known for,” she told the FT. “But I deeply recognise the responsibility I have to be a role model.”

She added her advice for young women hoping to make it to the top of the business world: “Be unafraid.”

The US magazine Fortune placed Walmsley at the top of its list of the world’s most powerful businesswomen for 2020, ahead of Jessica Tan, head of the Chinese insurer Ping An, and Ana Botin, who leads the Spanish bank Santander.