Tom McKillop

Chief executive officer, AstraZeneca

Nationality: British.

Born: March 19, 1943, in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Education: University of Glasgow, BS, 1965; PhD, 1968.

Family: Son of Hugh McKillop and Annie Wilson; married Elizabeth Kettle; children: three.

Career: ICI Corporation, 1969–1975, research scientist; 1975–1978, head of Natural Products Research in ICI Phamaceuticals (ICIP); 1978–1980, director of research in France for ICIP; 1980–1984, chemical manager for ICIP; 1984–1985, general manager of research for ICIP; 1985–1989, general manager of development for ICIP; 1989–1994, technical director of ICIP; Zeneca Group, 1994–1996, CEO of Zeneca Pharmaceuticals; 1996–1999, CEO; AstraZeneca, 1999–, CEO.

Awards: Honorary LLD, Manchester, 1999; Honorary DSc, Glasgow, 2000; Honorary DSc, Leicester, 2000; Honorary DSc, Huddersfield, 2000; Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Dundee, 2003; 25 Managers to Watch, BusinessWeek , 2001; Knighthood, from Queen Elizabeth II, 2002.

Address: AstraZeneca, 15 Stanhope Gate, London, W1Y 6LN, United Kingdom;

■ Sir Thomas (Tom) McKillop presided over the 1999 merger of Zeneca Group—formerly ICI Pharmaceuticals—with Astra of Sweden, forming the new London-based company AstraZeneca, at the time the fifth-largest drug manufacturer in the world. McKillop began his career as a research scientist but eventually rose through the ranks to management positions. Although the names changed and the businesses he worked for went through considerable development, McKillop was one of those rare individuals in the modern corporate world who stayed with the same company for more than 30 years.


McKillop, a miner's son from Ayrshire, Scotland, never imagined for himself a career in business; his early ambitions

Tom McKillop. Indranil Mukherjee/Getty Images.
Tom McKillop.
Indranil Mukherjee/Getty Images

were in the field of chemistry. He obtained both a bachelor's degree with honors and then a doctorate through his study of carbonium ion rearrangements at Glasgow University. He then went on to do postdoctoral research in Paris.

In 1969 McKillop joined ICI Corporation as a research scientist and began slowly rising through the ranks. He was initially employed in ICI's corporate research laboratory but in 1975 moved over to the Pharmaceuticals division. He held a number of research positions in that division, including director of research at the company's France-based facility from 1978 to 1980 and chemical manager from 1980 to 1984. Further promotions saw McKillop gradually leave his scientific research roots behind and enter the world of buiness management; he became ICI Pharmaceuticals' general manager of research in 1984, then general manager of development in 1985, then technical director in 1989. In the last position McKillop was in charge of international research, development, and production.


Imperial Chemical Industries (later ICI) had begun business in the United Kingdom in 1926. Before World War II the company that had been primarily an explosives and dyestuffs manufacturer became involved in drug making at the behest of the British government, developing an antimalarial drug for British troops. After the war ICI's senior management concluded that pharmaceuticals would be important in the future and put together a team of scientists that became ICI Pharmaceuticals as of 1957. At first the division incurred consistent losses, but the company's long-term investment paid dividends 20 years later when ICI scientists discovered beta-blockers, the first drugs to be found effective in the treatment of hypertension.

Zeneca Group was created by a demerger from ICI in January 1993, wherein chemical activities were effectively separated from the biosciences side of the business. Zeneca was built on three former business units of ICI: the pharmaceutical, agricultural-chemical, and specialty-chemical units. McKillop was appointed chief executive officer of Zeneca Phamaceuticals in 1994, and two years later became executive director of Zeneca Group.


In December 1998 the announcement was made that Zeneca would merge with Astra, the Swedish pharmaceutical company. Astra was founded in 1913 and was active in pharmaceutical research, development, manufacture, and marketing in four main areas: gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and pain control. At the time of the merger Astra's key products included Losec (omeprazole), a gastrointestinal drug that was the world's best-selling pharmaceutical; Xylocaine, the world's best-selling local anesthetic; and a number of respiratory drugs. At that time Zeneca's key products included Dirpivan (propofol), the world's best-selling injectable general anesthetic, and a range of oncology drugs such as Zoladex (goserelin acetate), Casodex (bicalutamide), Nolvadex (tamoxifen citrate), and Arimidex (anastrozole). Zeneca was also the producer of a number of agrochemicals, such as Gramoxone, Fusilade, Touchdown, and Surpass, all herbicides; Karate, an insecticide; and Amistar, a fungicide. Astra and Zeneca were two companies with similar product areas as well as similar science-based cultures.

McKillop was chosen to be the CEO of the newly formed company, which would be called AstraZeneca. In many ways McKillop was an unexpected choice, as he had never run such a large corporation and bore a background in research rather than in business. However, he did have a 30-year history with Zeneca and had witnessed and taken lessons from all of the changes the company underwent through that period of time. McKillop's reputation for working long hours—which was made possible by his ability to function normally on only fours hours of sleep a night—enabled him to oversee the completion of the merger that created AstraZeneca in only 80 days. In February 1999 the Zeneca shareholders approved the merger, which was then approved by both the European Commission and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. AstraZeneca officially came into being on April 6, 1999.

Business analysts would point to the merger as a prime example of how successful such unions could be. The new company soon realized operational and research savings and also found itself with a greater ability to spur long-term growth and offer more strategic financial options. In a speech to shareholders McKillop referred to the unification as a "merger of equals" (May 19, 1999); he credited its success to the broad acceptance employees and shareholders had for the new company. Considered by others to be a plain-spoken, no-nonsense manager, McKillop's honest and forthright approach to the merger sidestepped the uncertainty often experienced in such deals. At the time the merger was the largest ever in Europe and created the world's fifth-largest pharmaceuticals company. McKillop remarked during the new company's first shareholders meeting, "From being two medium-sized companies, we are now one at the very top" (May 19, 1999).

Far from resting on his laurels, McKillop continued to innovate and expand, beginning with a spin-off merging of AstraZeneca's agricultural-chemical business with Novartis's crop-protection and seed business. The move was unexpected, as the two companies were seen as rivals, but both benefited. The deal was completed in 2000, creating Syngenta, the world's largest agrochemical company, with a market share at inception of almost 23 percent.


McKillop was said to maintain a hands-on approach at AstroZeneca, which he was particularly capable of doing thanks to his years working throughout the many levels of the company, giving him broad insight into all aspects of operations. In 2001 BusinessWeek named McKillop one of its top "25 Managers to Watch."

The pharmaceutical industry was always shaped by the successes or failures of long-term research projects; yet while a long-term approach was vital, McKillop recognized that with the expiration of patents and the widespread manufacture of generic equivalent drugs the industry was always in flux. He told BusinessWeek , "You have to reinvent the business every decade" (January 8, 2001).

McKillop and AstraZeneca took matters of corporate social responsibility very seriously. McKillop told, a European Union News and Policy organization, "We believe wherever we operate we should be a contributory part of that community" (March 17, 2004). AstraZeneca's commitment to tuberculosis research—for which a research laboratory was opened in Bangalore, India—was an example of how the company viewed its wider role in the world. McKillop suggested that such philanthropy should be seen as a good business practice for a drug-making company, as a positive public image could make a firm the preferred choice of conscientious customers. In a competitive marketplace and in an industry often beset with public-relations problems, his approach won widespread praise.


McKillop strongly supported higher education and research in his roles as prochancellor of the University of Leicester, a member of the Society for Drug Research, and a trustee of the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh. He also served as chairman of the British Pharma Group and of the NorthWest Science Council. In June 2002 he was appointed president of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) at its General Assembly in Bruges for a two-year term, having previously served as the federation's vice president. He served as a nonexecutive director with Lloyds TSB Group, Amersham International, and several other companies.

McKillop listed his interests as sports, reading, music, and—emblematic of his hands-on approach to both life and business—carpentry. He received knighthood in the 2002 Queen's Birthday Honours list for services to the pharmaceuticals industry. In recognition of his work and commitments to education and the wider community, he was the recipient of a number of honorary degrees, from Manchester in 1999 and from Glasgow, Leicester, and Huddersfield in 2000.

See also entries on AstraZeneca PLC and Zeneca Group PLC in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

"AstraZeneca: A Look at a Key Feature of AstraZeneca Business," Biz/ed, .

Capel, Kerry, "AstraZeneca: A Drug Merger That's Working," BusinessWeek , November 15, 1999, p. 36.

McKillop, Thomas, "Full Interview with Tom McKillop, CEO AstraZeneca, President EFPIA," March 17, 2004, .

Speech by Tom McKillop at AstraZeneca Information Meeting in Stockholm, May 19, 1999, AstraZeneca press release, .

"The Top 25 Managers—Managers to Watch: Thomas McKillop, StarZeneca," BusinessWeekOnline , January 8, 2001, .

—David Tulloch

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