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GlaxoSmithKline names first female big pharma CEO

Emma Walmsley, a graduate of Oxford University who cut her teeth at the French cosmetics giant L'Oreal, has been named the new chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline.

She will be the first woman to lead Britain's largest drugmaker,  and the first woman at the helm of one of the world's top 25 pharmaceutical companies.  She will succeed Andrew Witty, who will retire in March.

"I've never primarily defined myself by my gender," Walmsley said in a video on Glaxo's website after her appointment was announced Tuesday.  "I don't think of myself as a woman in  business; I think of myself as a business person. And I've been lucky enough to always work for companies or in countries where being female hasn't limited or restricted me.

"Obviously, I know that's not the case for everyone," said the mother of four, who lives in London with her husband.  "It's not the case everywhere, and the statistics show we've still got a lot of progress to make."

Walmsley currently is CEO of GSK Consumer Healthcare,  created as a joint venture with Novartis in March 2015. GSK consumer health-care brands include Sensodyne toothpaste, Voltaren pain reliever, Theraflu for cold and flu, Polident denture cream, Horlicks malted-milk drink, and Abreva for cold sores.

Since 2011, Walmsley has been a member of GSK's corporate executive team. Before joining GSK in 2010,  she worked for L'Oreal for 17 years in a variety of marketing and management roles in Paris, London, and New York. She was general manager of consumer products for L'Oreal China, based in Shanghai.

She joined GSK to oversee the consumer health-care unit in Europe.  In 2011, she was promoted to head the consumer business worldwide.

"A number-one priority of focus for me over the coming months, and years, is going to be making sure we are investing appropriately and strongly in our R&D, and in the chance to maximize the assets we have in-house and those that we can bring in to complement them from the outside," she said.

"I very much take my responsibility seriously," Walmsley said in the video, "alongside other female leaders, be it in business, or in politics -- how wonderful that we've made so much progress there recently.  Also in academia. We all have responsibility to be role models, to inspire our daughters to stay ambitious, to aim high, and to dream  big."

GlaxoSmithKline employs 5,000 in the Philadelphia area, including at the Navy Yard, and in Upper Merion and Upper Providence.