CSL's 'right guy for the right time'

A new man is taking the reins of the vaccine and plasma giant, writes Madeleine Heffernan.

A new man is taking the reins of the vaccine and plasma giant, writes Madeleine Heffernan.

THIS year is shaping up to be a pivotal one for CSL, one of corporate Australia's few international successes and a star stock of 2012.

By the year's end, CSL will not be led by Brian McNamee, one of the country's longest-serving and most lauded chief executives.

Rather, Paul Perreault will take over the reins at the $26.7 billion blood plasma and vaccine giant.

Although Mr Perreault, 55, is president of the company's chief money-spinning business, CSL Behring, the American is largely an unknown quantity in Australia, where retail shareholders comprise around 30 per cent of CSL's register.

A scroll through old newspapers does not bring up much, but here are some vitals: Mr Perreault has a bachelors degree in psychology and he has spent three decades in the healthcare industry.

Married with children, he joined CSL in 2004 as part of its acquisition of Aventis Behring, and in July 2011 took over as president of CSL Behring, the blood-plasma subsidiary that comprises most of CSL's $US4.6 billion-plus ($A4.3 billion) in annual revenues.

UBS analyst Andrew Goodsall, recently rated Australia's top healthcare and biotech analyst, said Mr Perreault's ascension was not a surprise.

"He was running the division that was responsible for the lion's share of revenue, so it wasn't much of a stretch to think he could run the company," Mr Goodsall said.

He said Mr Perreault was well respected in the industry and was "very commercially focused". The company also stresses his commercialisation and operational experience.

Dr McNamee told BusinessDay his successor was a "straightforward" and "very good" person. He said he and Mr Perreault shared many similarities: they were about the same age, they had been married a similar length of time, they enjoyed golf and were family minded. "We get on incredibly well," Dr McNamee said. Under Dr McNamee's leadership, CSL made two bumper acquisitions - the Red Cross' blood plasma business ZLB in 2000, and Aventis Behring in 2004.

Plans for a third, the $US3.1 billion purchase of US-based rival Talecris, were thwarted by a US regulator, which noted that a combined CSL and Talecris would have 80 per cent of the US market for blood plasma products.

The regulator accused CSL and rivals of focusing on "preventing oversupply" of IVIG (intravenous immunoglobin) and plasma, and developing "sophisticated oligopoly models to estimate and predict changes in supply and demand" - allegations CSL strongly rejected. The regulator's finding triggered price-fixing lawsuits from medical practices and hospitals in the US. A CSL spokeswoman said this week that legal action was continuing there.

CSL's focus now is on organic growth, with the broker JPMorgan saying after CSL's research and development briefing last month that "progress across all aspects of CSL's R&D pipeline was notable, with a consistent timeline of launch dates (across new geographies, novel indications and new products) expected" over the next five years.

Mr Goodsall said the recombitant haemophilia business had huge potential for CSL and its new chief executive. "He's the right guy for the right time," he said. "If they get it right, it'll be transformational."

The appointment of CSL's first overseas-based chief executive raises the question of whether CSL will weaken links to its home town, Melbourne, where much of its research and development takes place.

About 89 per cent of CSL's sales in the 2012 financial year came from operations outside Australia, and 83 per cent of its 10,515 employees were outside Australia. The company is shifting to reporting in US dollars this year.

Dr McNamee said growth outside Australia would exceed growth at home, regardless of who was in charge.

Last year, Dr McNamee declared CSL was in its best shape yet. Indeed, its shares ended the year 68 per cent higher, the best-performance of any ASX20 company, by far, as it upgraded its profit guidance, and investors digested yet another share buyback.

But some analysts say the momentum cannot be maintained.

"While CSL's market position shows no sign of being weakened, Baxter's return to full capacity and any softening in demand mean earnings growth in FY14 and beyond will likely be more subdued," Deutsche Bank said in late November.

The good news for Mr Perreault is he can look forward to a hefty pay rise when he takes over the top job in July. For the 2012 fiscal year, Mr Perreault took home just over $2 million. Dr McNamee was paid $7.69 million, including a $2 million cash bonus.

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