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Emma Walmsley, one of the most powerful and influential business figures in the UK, is the CEO of Britain's biggest drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. An impressive role model and a brands expert with more than two decades of incredibly diverse international experience in fast moving consumer and luxury goods, she is the first woman to head a top global pharmaceutical company and the seventh female chief executive in Britain’s FTSE 100 index. She has been on the Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women International list for the last three years and is ranked #2 in the 2017 list.

Hailing from a family with no business background, Emma chose business as her career out of sheer curiosity. She started her career in consultancy, but took up a corporate job when she realised that she loved doing the work herself. Before joining Glaxo, Emma spent 17 years with French cosmetics firm L'Oreal in the UK, Europe, the US and China in a variety of international marketing and management roles. She is well known for her excellent leadership credentials, marketing savvy, strong personality, excellent track record of delivering growth and driving performance.

With the cosmetic giant...

In her career spanning 17 years with L’Oreal, Emma Walmsley performed various marketing and general management roles in London, Paris and New York. She was hired for a marketing job in 1993, after a short stint in consultancy. Demonstrating extra ordinary talent and potential right at the start of the career, she quickly ascended the career ladder. In 1999, she took the helm of the Garnier - Maybelline division in the UK. Then she went on to become VP in New York running Maybelline.

From New York, Emma headed to east in 2007 and was based in Shanghai as General Manager, Consumer Products for L’Oreal China. She was responsible for global brands including L’Oréal Paris, Maybelline and Garnier, and Mininurse, a Chinese skincare brand. In her three years, the company aggressively expanded in the emerging market of China through innovations on global brands, new product launches and investment in sales and distribution. The contribution of this smart and capable executive in the development of the company in the Chineese market was phenomenal. She describes her time in Asia as her biggest learning experience.

A lifetime opportunity...

While living in Shanghai, Emma met Andrew Witty, the then CEO of GSK at a networking lunch in 2010. The inspiring conversation ended up with an offer to run the firm’s global consumer healthcare business, which operates in over 100 countries with £5 billion in sales and has thousands of employees. Her family, with four kids under ten, has settled down in China and her husband was running a business there. It disturbed her if she was being disloyal to L'Oreal, if it was unfair to her family, if it was too risky to move to a new industry and so on. She almost rejected the offer. But her husband persuaded to take it up and convinced her that the opportunity was in the challenge. She moved to London as the President of GSK’s consumer health care for Europe and President designate - worldwide consumer health care.

She has been a member of GSK’s Corporate Executive Team since 2011, actively contributing to decisions across the whole business. She was appointed as the CEO of GSK Consumer Healthcare, a joint venture between GSK and its Swiss competitor Novartis, in 2015 which has a portfolio of popular over-the-counter brands that includes Flonase, Sensodyne toothpaste, Horlicks malted drinks and Panadol painkillers. On her each visit to a new market, she took time to visit the grocery and chemist stores in smaller cities and personally took the feedback of her products to know what her team could do better. She gave a stellar performance at her division by doubling sales of Sensodyne to £1 billion. Global sales for the group increased 44% and profits jumped 76% under her leadership.

To the top post of Glaxo...

With the board voting unanimously for the seasoned marketer and consumer operator, Emma Walmsley was named as the CEO of the entire operation in April 2016, singling out the UK's largest drugmaker as the only major global pharmaceutical company led by a woman. She took over GlaxoSmithKline from Sir Andrew Witty following his retirement. This watershed moment at many levels happened at a time when the number of women in executive directorship positions/ C-suites remained low and was much discussed in the media.

Her ability to run one of the world’s biggest drugmakers was also questioned for her lack of direct experience in pharmaceuticals and lack of R&D or scientific background. She had to face multiple challenges like dip in the share prices, declining returns from research and development, increased competition from generic drugmakers, pricing pressure from healthcare providers, especially in the US, etc. Coming from a consumer focused background, GSK was a steep learning curve for her. But it did not bother her as she says “a fresh pair of eyes will be helpful”. During the transition period, she travelled around the company, met people and listened to the leaders on the changes to be made in the company in its next chapter.

Overhauling and delivering...

As part of a drive to revive, she is rolling out the elimination of 33 of GSK’s drug development programs and 130 non-core brands. She has revamped the top ranks by reshuffling 40% of the management team. She has brought diversity to the team by bringing in fresh talent from outside including from Novartis AG, Google and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and through promoting the insiders. She has been following her predecessor's strategy of running a diversified business with pharmaceuticals on one side and consumer healthcare products on the other. Out of the three product divisions - Pharmaceuticals, Vaccines and Consumer Healthcare, her first priority was to improve pharmaceuticals. In the 2017 financials, the sales growth across all three business divisions was encouraging - with Pharmaceuticals reporting sales of 17.3 billion pounds, Vaccines 5.2 billion pounds and Consumer Healthcare 7.8 billion pounds

Personal life...

Emma studied Classics and Modern Languages from Oxford University and was a talented singer and actress at drama productions of Oxford. This cycling enthusiast enjoys Bikram yoga. She likes to keep a relatively low media profile. She has drawn inspiration from other business leaders such as Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, and Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

She is married to David Owen, a former businessman whom she met at a party in her mid-20s. He stepped back from the business he set up in China and moved to London for Emma to take up her position at GlaxoSmithKline. With efficiency and quick decision making, she juggles business life and family like a pro and is always there for her four kids' school plays, matches and parent evenings.

A dynamic leader...

Emma is a great communicator and an outstanding leader who gives a lot of importance for talent development. She is passionate about helping people and mentors anybody who need guidance and stands by her team. She does everything she can to help her team deliver. She believes that a company can never deliver best results without great people.

Her two cents for the future executives...

Do what you love.
Build your capabilities.
Go global early.
Be scared and do it anyway
Pick your support system well.

Associations and memberships...

Previously a non-executive director of drinks group, Diageo

Awards and accolades...

Named as No. 24 on Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women International list in 2015, No. 33 in 2016 and No.2 in 2017
Gave presentation at JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, San Francisco, USA in 2018
Addressed the London Business School Women in Business conference in 2016


People regret far more what they don't do rather than what they do.
I've never primarily defined myself by gender. I don't think of myself as a woman in business, I think of myself as a business person. Being female has never restricted me.
I respect my competition but I don't worry about them. I am more interested in watching the consumer than watching the competitor.
We all have a responsibility to be role models to inspire our daughters to stay ambitious, to aim high and to dream big. I was lucky enough to be supported through four maternity leaves, which also made a big difference and has taught me to remember to support young talent.
I’ve learnt from many great bosses along my journey. I have also learnt a lot from one or two really bad bosses and I constantly remind myself about the things that they did that used to drive me mad.

Hope readers caught up the spark …