Hovione has announced the appointment of Jean-Luc Herbeaux as CEO, effective April 1. Currently Hovione’s chief operating officer, Herbeaux will replace Guy Villax, who has been CEO of the family-owned pharmaceutical services company for the past 25 years.
Hovione was launched in 1959 by Villax’s parents, Diane and Ivan, and two other partners in a garage at their home outside Lisbon. The company began developing fermentation processes for antibiotics and later moved into making generic pharmaceuticals. Guy Villax became active in the company when he traveled to China in 1984 to scout locations for a plant that the firm eventually built in Macao.
Villax is credited with moving the company into the exclusive synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for drug industry customers. One of several family-owned drug services firms operating in Europe, Hovione grew to 10 times the size during Villax’s stewardship. Major investments included the opening of a technology center in New Jersey in 2003 and the purchase of a Pfizer plant in Cork, Ireland, in 2009.
The company recently said it expected to achieve sales of nearly $400 million in 2021.
Herbeaux joined the firm in 2020 as chief operating officer. He previously held several management positions at the German chemical maker Evonik Industries, where he last headed the company’s health care business. In November, he and Villax outlined a $170 million investment program running through 2023 that they said will increase Hovione’s production capacity by about 25%.
Villax says Hovione’s board chose to hire a CEO from the outside in response to the company’s growth over the past five years. “When a company employs 1,600 or 1,700, you need skills that other people have much more developed than I have,” he tells C&EN. Hovione currently employs about 2,000.
Industry consultant Roger Laforce says Herbeaux is well-placed for the CEO position given his background and tenure as COO at the company. “He knows how to run the shop,” Laforce says, noting that Hovione now has a large shop with plants in Europe, China, and the US and activities in API production, solid-state chemistry, spray drying, and medical devices. “Most probably what they need now is an operational guy who can streamline what they have,” he says.
Laforce, former general manager of Fabbrica Italiana Sintetici, another family-owned pharmaceutical services firm, says Villax matched his father’s passion for the business. “He really made an average shop in Portugal into one of the leaders in our industry in all aspects—technology and market position” he says. Villax was also a leader in the industry as a co-founder of the European Fine Chemicals Group, an association of European pharmaceutical chemical companies.
Jan Ramakers, a consultant based in the Netherlands, agrees with Laforce’s assessment while also lauding the decision to bring in Herbeaux from the outside. “I think it’s wise to look for the best person to fill the job rather than force it into being a family member,” he says. “That is what you should do. Not everybody does it.”
Villax emphasizes that the change in leadership won’t change the company’s family-owned culture. Going forward, he says he will be focused as a board member on maintaining Hovione’s “entrepreneurial spirit” and ensuring that the family’s next generation, numbering 16, is engaged.
“Family is the key entrepreneur that is prepared to take risk and go into innovations that are not yet absolutely confirmed winners,” he says. “These are the kinds of ideas you discuss at the board level. I hope to be useful.”