The fire under GlaxoSmithKline's Emma Walmsley grows as another well-known activist investor grabs its pitchfork — report
Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.
The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.
Now, Bluebell is piling on with similar claims about the drugmaker’s leadership, penning a letter to GSK chair Jonathan Symonds that demanded Walmsley reapply for her job as the firm scouts for potential replacements, FT reported. Bluebell reportedly also called for more “scientific experience” on GSK’s board.
While relatively tiny in terms of assets managed, Bluebell has held an outsized role in driving change at massive companies by gathering activists into what the firm calls a “critical mass” for change, according to a Hedgeweek profile in January. That influence came to bear at Danone, where Bluebell drove out most of the company’s leadership after a short-lived campaign.
Bluebell’s participation could also form a particularly formidable one-two punch with Elliott, which has built a reputation of its own in overhauling leadership at a few name-brand biotechs. The investor took on a multibillion-pound stake in GSK back in April after the drugmaker missed its beat in Q1 on the heels of a particularly ugly stretch of setbacks for its oncology business.
Most recently, Elliott was at the tip of the spear in calling for change at the top at rare disease specialist Alexion, calling on the drugmaker to launch a “proactive sale” after a series of what Elliott called disastrous M&A decisions. Alexion would go on to sell to AstraZeneca in a deal valued at $39 billion.
Prior to that, Elliott was instrumental in pushing Bayer to divest its crop sciences division — formerly Monsanto — after the $66 billion buyout and lead product Roundup proved a lawsuit nightmare for the German giant. Elliott has also had its run-ins with AbbVie, suing the company for walking away from a potential $55 billion buyout of Shire, which would eventually find a new home at Japanese drugmaker Takeda.
For Walmsley, the renewed opposition comes as her company looks to offload a flailing consumer health business and streamline around growth areas in oncology and rare disease. GSK imported Genentech veteran and oncology guru Hal Barron back in 2017 to hit the reset button on the company’s pipeline, which in recent months has seen setback after setback, making investors impatient for an unmitigated win.