Richard Sykes by Bob Dob Illustrations

Richard Sykes, rector (CEO) of Imperial College London, the number one university for international class research in the United Kingdom, is making a habit of remolding great institutions. He almost single-handedly created the world's second largest pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) through merger and acquisition during the 1990s before returning to his academic roots with Imperial College in 2001.

This was the second time in eight years that eyebrows were raised by Sykes' career move. His appointment as chief executive of GSK's forerunner Glaxo in 1993 was criticized on the grounds that someone with a pure research background would lack the commercial acumen to run a large multinational company.2 He quickly proved his critics wrong by responding to an impending collapse in sales of the drug Zantac by masterminding the takeover of the Wellcome group in a move described by many analysts as the...

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