Illumina CEO resigns amid investor pressure

Francis deSouza resigns from Illumina

Illumina chief executive Francis deSouza confirmed in a LinkedIn post today that he has handed in his resignation, ending a seven-year stint at the helm of the gene-sequencing giant and 10 years on its board.

He said in the post that Illumina’s general counsel, Chuck Dadswell, will act as interim CEO while the board searches for a permanent replacement, adding that he will remain in an advisory capacity at the company through July.

The decision to stand down comes after a fractious few months for Illumina’s management, under fire from billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn, who has been seeking changes in leadership and a shift in strategic direction via a proxy fight.

Icahn has accused Ilumina’s management of recklessness and poor oversight, mainly over the company’s acquisition of blood-based cancer diagnostics specialist Grail for $7.1 billion in 2021 before securing approvals from financial regulators.

The pressure resulted in the ousting of Illumina’s chairman John Thompson last month, who was voted out by investors at the company’s annual general meeting, although deSouza survived that process. He was lambasted by Icahn, however, who called his leadership into question and criticised an 87% increase in compensation to $27 million in 2022.

In his LinkedIn post, which was addressed to Illumina staff, deSouza reeled off a list of accomplishments by the company under his tenure, including a pivot from a pure-play research company to one serving clinical markets with offerings like non-invasive prenatal testing, cancer therapy selection, and genetic disease testing, that now accounts for around half its revenues.

“Along the way, we lowered the price of the genome from about $5,000 to $200, allowing millions to benefit from genomics, and we scaled our revenues from $1.05 billion in 2012 to $4.58 billion in 2022,” he wrote.

On the subject of the Grail acquisition, deSouza remains defiant, despite recent decisions by antitrust authorities in the US and Europe ordering Illumina to roll back the merger – which are being appealed.

“My belief in the potential of Grail’s revolutionary technology and the benefits of merging it with Illumina remains unshakeable,” he asserted. “It takes bold moves and courage to ‘improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome’. That is Illumina’s mission, and it is in our DNA.”

Icahn, meanwhile, tweeted that he was “happy to see” the recent changes at Illumina, adding: “The new additions to the board, the CEO transition, as well as the change of the chairman, are significant positives that should drive value for all stakeholders and human health.”