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Claude Saujet is out at Sanofi

PARIS -- Claude Saujet, who had been chairman and chief executive officer of Sanofi Beaute SA since 1991 and oversaw last year's integration of Parfums Yves Saint Laurent into the group, has apparently been forced out of the company, confirming a...

PARIS — Claude Saujet, who had been chairman and chief executive officer of Sanofi Beaute SA since 1991 and oversaw last year’s integration of Parfums Yves Saint Laurent into the group, has apparently been forced out of the company, confirming a report in these columns Friday.

At a meeting Friday afternoon of the board of Elf-Sanofi, which owns Sanofi Beaute, the directors voted to name Jean-Paul Leon, director of corporate strategy, as the interim replacement for Saujet until a new chief is found. The meeting was presided over by Jean-Francois Dehecq, chairman of Elf-Sanofi.

On Thursday, Saujet had labeled reports that he was leaving Sanofi as “absolutely false.”

A Sanofi statement confirming Saujet’s departure said only that he had “left the group” effective Friday and gave no reason for his exit. A spokeswoman for the company, however, said the change was brought about by “a classic case of differences over management strategy.”

She noted that Saujet was appointed chief of the cosmetics and fragrance division long before the possibility came up of acquiring YSL, and that the takeover had dramatically changed the dynamics of the group’s cosmetics operations and the scope of his responsibilities.

“The merger with Saint Laurent has been very successful, but now the time has come to make decisions about the future direction of this larger entity,” she said.

Reached Saturday at his vacation home in Cannes, Saujet said his departure was an amicable one and added that the disagreement centered around Dehecq’s desire to completely integrate beauty into the group’s dominant pharmaceuticals business.

“This had been building up for several months,” Saujet said. “My own personal view is that beauty can’t be mixed in with Sanofi Pharma. Pharmaceuticals is a completely different business, and the people who are good at it are not the same as the ones who are successful in cosmetics.”

Specifically, he cited a recent decision to appoint a pharmaceuticals executive to oversee the beauty division of Sanofi’s Swiss subsidiary.

Saujet first joined Sanofi in 1975. When Parfums Van Cleef was founded at Sanofi, he was its first head. He left Sanofi in 1980 and went to Cartier’s U.S. subsidiary, eventually becoming chairman. From 1985 to 1990, he was president of Harry Winston, then returned to Sanofi and became chairman in July 1991.

His departure could have implications for other Sanofi executives. The Sanofi spokeswoman said there were “question marks” about some plans already announced by Saujet, notably the transfer to Paris of Lawrence J. Aiken, president and chief executive officer of the New York-based Sanofi Beaute Inc. and worldwide president of the group’s American brands, which include Oscar de la Renta and Perry Ellis. The spokeswoman would not give further details.

Donald Loftus was recently hired to become executive vice president of the American business to oversee daily operations after Aiken’s scheduled relocation on May 1.

(In Boca Raton, Fla., Aiken, who was attending the annual convention of the Cosmetic, Toiletries and Fragrance Association, said he could not comment until he spoke with Elf-Sanofi executives.)

Pierre Berge, president of Yves Saint Laurent Couture, which was acquired along with the YSL cosmetics business in May in a deal valued at $630 million, had little to say about the move: “It’s a decision by Mr. Dehecq, and I haven’t worked long enough with Claude Saujet to form a strong opinion and make a reasonable comment.”