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Daniel Vasella: Doctor Vasella revives Novartis

Daniel Vasella has had a tough time as chief executive of life sciences company Novartis, with a collapse in its agribusiness, management turmoil in pharmaceuticals and weak performance in the US. But he's restructured the company and now hopes new drugs can deliver growth.


On March 7 1996, the then largest corporate merger in any industry was announced. Novartis was formed by the merger of Swiss drugs and chemicals leaders Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy in a deal worth Sfr75 billion ($41.2 billion). The new company held a 4.4% share of the world pharmaceuticals market, just behind GlaxoWellcome's 4.7%, and was twice as large as its nearest rival in agrichemicals.

This momentous deal had been set in train on November 30 1995 when Marc Moret, chairman of Sandoz, crossed the Rhine in Basel, Switzerland, to meet Ciba-Geigy's chairman, Alex Krauer. Moret carried plans to merge the two companies to strengthen their position in the fast-consolidating pharma industry and to exploit new synergies between pharma and agrichemicals.

Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy had been founded in Basel at the end of the 19th century. By 1996, both were still profitable enough to survive on their own. Sandoz had divisions in pharmaceuticals, nutrition, agribusiness and chemicals; Ciba-Geigy had divisions in healthcare, agriculture and industrial chemicals.

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