Novartis CEO plays down talk he might stand down

BASEL, Switzerland, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Novartis's NOVN.VX long-serving Chief Executive, Daniel Vasella, wants to continue in the job and played down speculation he might soon stand down following the appointment of a new chief operating officer.

Vasella -- one of the longest-serving leaders in a European pharmaceutical industry that has seen a wave of boardroom changes -- told Reuters is still enjoying his job some 12 years after $41 billion merger that created the Swiss drugmaker.

“I don’t know if baby is the right word, but there is an emotional connection and a deep desire that (Novartis) succeeds and that it’s going well and that people are happy, at least most of the time,” Vasella said in an interview late on Friday. [ID:nL5622613]

“I see many reasons to go but I see even more reasons to continue. It is a very rewarding job.”

Roche ROG.VX, GlaxoSmithKline GSK.L, AstraZeneca AZN.L and Sanofi-Aventis SASY.PA have all appointed new CEOs since 2006. Sanofi has done so twice.

Novartis’s appointment of former vaccines chief Joerg Reinhardt to a new position as chief operating officer has prompted speculation that he might succeed as CEO, but Vasella played down that prospect. [ID:nLK383486]

“The obvious is sometimes not what happens,” he said. “I believe that some people probably believe that, others probably don’t believe it. I explicitly said that it would be, in my view, a shortcoming if there was just one potential successor.”

As the financial crisis bites, Vasella sees more reasons to continue in the job than not to.

“It would be naive to think that every day is just fantastic to go to work and I wouldn’t know what else to do. That is not the case,” he said. “But I also have to say it is a very rewarding job.”

Vasella is a medical doctor and also serves as chairman of Novartis, which was formed from a merger of drugmakers Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy.

Additional reporting by Paul Arnold and Emma Thomasson; editing by John Stonestreet