Illumina names successor to former CEO de Souza

Illumina's Jacob Thaysen

Illumina has appointed Agilent Technologies executive Jacob Thaysen as its new chief executive, following the departure of former CEO Francis deSouza in June and chairman John Thompson the previous month.

The gene-sequencing giant is trying to get back on track after an acrimonious proxy battle with billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn, who has been seeking changes in leadership, as well as a shift in strategic direction for the company.

48-year-old Thaysen – currently senior vice president of lab supplies company Agilent and head of its life sciences and applied markets group – has been given the task of steadying Illumina as it deals with the fallout over the company's acquisition of blood-based cancer diagnostics specialist Grail for $7.1 billion in 2021 before securing approvals from financial regulators.

Since then, regulators in both the US and EU have ordered Illumina to roll back the merger, although the company is challenging the verdicts. In the meantime, Grail has been maintained as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Illumina, held and operated separately, in order to comply with the interim measures.

In a statement, Illumina said that Thaysen has been instrumental in improving revenues and margins since being appointed to lead Agilent's life sciences and applied markets division in 2018.

Sales in the unit – which covers Agilent's analytical instrument portfolio, informatics, and cell analysis franchise – reached $4 billion last year, up from $2.2 billion in 2017, with margins improving to 30% from around 22% over the same period.

Thaysen is also credited with nearly doubling operating profit at Agilent's diagnostics and genomics group while president of that unit between 2014 to 2018.

"Jacob's unique combination of deep technological and commercial experience will be a great addition to Illumina," said Stephen MacMillan, who stepped into the role of chair at Illumina after Thompson was ousted.

"He brings a fresh perspective, a demonstrated track record [of] driving profitable growth, and a strong commitment to create value for all of Illumina's stakeholders."

Thaysen will take up the CEO role at Illumina on 25th September, after which interim CEO Charles Dadswell will resume his position as senior vice president and general counsel.

"Illumina's technology is at the forefront of sequencing and has set the pace for the industry," Thaysen said of his new company, adding, "I'm planning to hit the ground running."

The appointment comes shortly after Illumina was fined €432 million – the maximum amount possible – by the European Commission for breach of the EU's merger control rules in connection with the Grail takeover.

Illumina has filed a legal challenge to the EU's decision on the merger and is currently waiting for that to be considered by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), while a similar battle with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) saw an initial ruling in the company's favour, but has now gone to appeal.

5 September, 2023