Jakob Riis is leaving Novo Nordisk, the Danish diabetes drug developer said Wednesday morning local time. It means the pharma group will have to say goodbye to the leader of its business in North America, but a replacement has already been appointed.

“Effective today, Doug Langa, senior vice president for Market Access, Novo Nordisk Inc., has been appointed senior vice president, head of North America Operations and president of Novo Nordisk Inc.,” Novo Nordisk writes in a press release.

The group says Jakob Riis “will remain with Novo Nordisk in a transition period to help ensure a smooth handover.”

Doug Langa joined Novo Nordisk in 2011 as senior director, Managed Markets, and is already a member of Novo Nordisk's US leadership team. He came from GlaxoSmithKline where he was senior director of Payer Marketing and before that he worked for Johnson & Johnson.

Was on the cards

Jakob Riis’ departure, sudden as it may be, was not completely unexpected. He was one of two senior executives seen as the eventual heir to long-time CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen. But he lost out to Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, who took over from Rebien at the turn of the year.

Riis, then-head of Novo’s business in China, was instead put in charge of operations in North America – the single most important market for the company.

“It was a choice. I became a part of Lars’ plan. That was how they decided to do it,” Jakob Riis told MedWatch in the wake of that decision.

Although the US market is the most important one for Novo, or any drug group, it was not the top job. Sources close to the very ambitious executive said he was clearly disappointed, but Jakob Riis himself was more diplomatic.

“I prefer to say that I’m thrilled with the task I have been given here in the US. It’s a huge market which is very important for Novo Nordisk. I believe I can make a real difference here. That’s where I am at the moment. I’m looking ahead and I’m very excited,” he said.

  Snubbed Novo deputy: “It was a choice. I became a part of Lars’ plan”  

But in the end, he only looked ahead six months.

"We are of course sad to see Jakob Riis leave. He has done a great job throughout his career in Novo Nordisk, and we wish him all the best. We welcome Doug Langa as our new head of North America Operations. Doug's experience in the US pharmaceutical market, his leadership skills and expertise in the area of market access make him the natural successor to Jakob Riis," says Novo Nordisk’s chairman of the board, Göran Ando, about the managerial change.

Fulfilling CEO ambitions

Jakob Riis, who has been a part of Novo Nordisk for 20 years, is already set for the next adventure in his career – and it is one that will fulfill his ambitions of becoming the top executive of a company.

The Denmark-based provider of healthcare, assistance, safety, and emergency services Falck A/S said shortly after Novo’s announcement that they have appointed Jakob Riis as their new CEO. He will take up his new position on May 1, 2017.

“It is a great pleasure to announce that Jakob Riis will join Falck as president and CEO. He possesses the qualities and competencies Falck needs to create a strong basis for the future,” says Peter Schütze, chairman of Falck’s board of directors, while Jakob Riis adds:

“An iconic company with strong roots in Denmark, Falck is on a journey to becoming a truly global company. I’m motivated by the values and the mission of Falck and excited to lead Falck through a transition where we will aim to set new standards for all our business areas.”

  Novo’s US head is ready for turnaround  

  Open letter from Novo VP: We will limit price hikes  

  Novo EVP: Negotiations can begin now  

  Another executive officer leaves Novo Nordisk  

English edit: Martin Havtorn Petersen

Would you like to receive the latest news from MedWatch directly in your e-mail inbox? Sign up for our free English newsletter below.