Who is Vas Narasimhan?
Vasant “Vas” Narasimhan is an American physician of Indian origin who was named the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Novartis International AG, a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, in September 2017. He is expected to replace Joseph Jimenez, the incumbent CEO, in February 2018. Working with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant from 2005, Narasimhan has held numerous leadership positions in the company across various development and commercial functions. Born to parents of Indian origin in New Jersey, Narasimhan was a good student from an early age. Both of his parents are highly accomplished professionals and ensured that their young son received the best possible education. After getting his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Chicago, he proceeded to the Harvard Medical School to study medicine. He then furthered his education by earning a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Prior to joining Novartis, he worked at McKinsey & Company and had also served as Global Head of the Sandoz Biopharmaceuticals and Oncology Injectables business unit. Over the course of his career, he has worked extensively in developing countries on a wide range of health issues. He is also an elected member of the US National Academy of Medicine.
Childhood & Early Life
Vasant Kalathur “Vas” Narasimhan was born in 1976 to parents of Indian origin in Moorestown, New Jersey. His father, Dr. Kalathur Narasimhan, had once served as the vice president for research and development at the Hoeganaes Corporation while his mother, Gita Narasimhan, is a former nuclear engineer for Public Service Electric & Gas, and a lecturer in physics at Burlington County Community College.
Raised by two highly accomplished professionals, Vasant grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment. Under the constant guidance of his parents, he emerged a brilliant student in school, with a special interest in science.
After completing high school, he enrolled at the University of Chicago in 1994 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology. He graduated with honors in 1998. He then proceeded to study medicine at the Harvard Medical School and received his MD in 2002. In 2003, he earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
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After completing his education, Vas Narasimhan started working as a consultant at McKinsey & Company in 2002. He was then promoted to the position of Engagement Manager.
In 2005, he joined Novartis, a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company based in Basel, which is considered one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. He was initially involved with Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, rising to the position of Global Head, Meningitis Franchise in 2007.
His career thrived in the challenging and dynamic environment of the drug making company. By 2008, he had been made the Vice President, US Marketing of the Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics franchise. Very soon, he was promoted to President, US Vaccines and was also made the Region Head North America.
Around this period, he also served as Global Head of the Sandoz Biopharmaceuticals and Oncology Injectables business unit. His duties included overseeing the division’s biosimilars pipeline.
In 2013, Narasimhan was promoted to the position of Global Head, Development. In this position he oversaw the entire general medicines pipeline. Holding a very powerful position in one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, he was responsible for running a major drug development program, overseeing 9,600 employees working on 143 projects, 500 ongoing clinical trials, and a budget of multi-billion dollars.
In early 2016, Vas Narasimhan was appointed Global Head of Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer in Novartis. As the first ever Chief Medical Officer of Novartis, he has the major responsibility of aligning the functions of the various departments within the Novartis Development organization under a unified, global umbrella.
He is a member of the Executive Committee of Novartis as well. His responsibilities in this position include overseeing the working of all Novartis Group companies and leading a team of over 15,000 employees across 140 global Development programs. He became a member of the Board of Trustees of the Novartis Foundation in January 2017.
In September 2017, Novartis Board appointed Vas Narasimhan as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company. He is expected to take over this position on February 1, 2018, by succeeding Joseph Jimenez, the incumbent CEO.
Although Vas Narasimhan is only in his early 40s, he is a much accomplished leader at Novartis. He has played a major role in getting the drugs move from research to actually becoming a commercial product. Working with the company since 2005, he has held numerous leadership positions and has significant experience in research, development and commercial functions.
Vas Narasimhan met Srishti Gupta, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Jagdish K. Gupta, while studying for his medical degree. They became close to each other while organizing an Asian cultural festival in 1998 and proceeded to work together on several projects in developing countries like Africa, Asia, and North and South America.
After the completion of their projects, they went on a camping trip to Mount Kilimanjaro where Narasimhan proposed to Srishti—more than 19,000 feet above sea level! The couple eventually tied the knot in 2003 with the blessings of their parents. Their wedding was a typical Indian Hindu affair. As of today, the couple has two children.