PARIS -- Jean-Francois Dehecq, head of pharmaceutical giant Elf-Sanofi, has made one thing absolutely clear -- his cosmetics business is not for sale.
In an apparent move to quash speculation in the French press, Dehecq made a surprise appearance before beauty editors attending a Van Cleef product presentation last Friday.
The press reports have been fueled by statements from Philippe Jaffre, chairman of Elf Aquitaine, the state-owned French petroleum company that owns 61 percent of Sanofi. He has been repeatedly quoted as saying that he wants to focus on the group's core businesses and sell non- essential holdings. "I am tired of reading articles that say we are about to do this or that, and I have difficulty understanding why the press persists in writing that Elf plans to sell Sanofi's beauty business," Dehecq said in an aggressive tone of voice. "While it's true that Elf is the majority shareholder, Elf does not dictate what happens at Sanofi. I am the president and I have been here 10 years.
"I can assure you," he continued, "and I speak for myself and in the name of Philippe Jaffre -- that we consider beauty among the group's core businesses."
Dehecq also restated that the dismissal of Sanofi Beaute chairman and chief executive officer Claude Saujet earlier this month was over strategic differences in how the beauty division should be run."There is no Sanofi Beaute. There are a series of brands. That is a very important concept," he said, referring to Saujet's philosophy that the beauty division should be run independently from the pharmaceuticals business.
"We need a chief for each brand, a team that defends that brand, we must bring beauty back into the fold," he said.
He added that the appointment of Jean-Paul Leon, Sanofi's director of corporate strategy, as interim replacement for Saujet, demonstrated that intention.
In remarks after his speech, Dehecq said that he was looking for someone who was "not from the old school" of prestige cosmetics. A spokeswoman later said that he was interested in hiring someone who had extensive mass market experience.
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