HONG KONG (AdAge.com) -- Last spring, Emma Walmsley gave up one of the top jobs at L'Oréal in China, one of the world's fastest-growing consumer markets, to join GlaxoSmithKline.
The move came as a surprise to Shanghai's marketing community. After all, Ms. Walmsley, 41, ran the French cosmetics giant's consumer products division, overseeing prestigious brands such as L'Oréal Paris, Maybelline and Garnier, as well as Mininurse, a Chinese skin-care brand acquired by L'Oréal in 2003.
She joined L'Oréal 14 years ago and held marketing roles in Paris, London and New York. Her strong performance in China, where she was a VP at L'Oréal Group until March, made her a good contender for a senior global management role at the marketer.
That's just the spot Ms. Walmsley was offered by GSK. Since May 1, she has overseen operations for the British pharmaceutical company's European business and brands, succeeding Manfred Scheske as president-consumer health care for that region. Within two years, global leadership for the consumer health-care business will pass from John Clarke, president-worldwide consumer health care, to Ms. Walmsley.
But Ms. Walmsley, a U.K. native, didn't take the job for a title bump. She has a "passion for brands and a track record of success, growing consumer businesses in the U.S., Europe and China," Mr. Clarke said.
That's just what GSK needs right now. Net profits soared recently due to strong demand for its H1N1 flu vaccines and anti-flu drug Relenza, and GSK has a broad product portfolio including Advair asthma treatment, weight-loss aid Alli and Aquafresh toothpaste.
Even so, GSK, like most major pharmaceutical companies, has been hurt by generic rivals and has been forced to slash budgets and R&D spending in key markets such as the U.S. It's also figuring out the right growth strategy for key developing markets such as China and India. "Emma's appointment comes at an important time, as we seek to diversify and further grow this business," said GSK CEO Andrew Witty.
Ms. Walmsley has demonstrated a strong capacity to tackle both areas. While in China, L'Oréal aggressively pursued growth through innovations on global brands, new-product launches and investment in its sales distribution.
It was also a strong marketer. Total ad spending by L'Oréal Group grew 56% last year, according to Nielsen Co., making the French company China's third-largest multinational marketer, following Procter & Gamble and Unilever, and L'Oréal overtook P&G's Olay as the most advertised brand.
"In just under three years, Emma has greatly accelerated the growth in L'Oréal's China consumer business. ... She joins us from a company which, like ours, has a strong scientific research base," Mr. Clarke said.