When plans to merge Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham collapsed two years ago, Sir Richard Sykes blamed "different cultures and different management styles". Others said it was Sir Richard's failure to agree with Jan Leschly, his counterpart at SmithKline Beecham, who should step down first.
Leschly finally announced his retirement in April. It was not until last month that Sir Richard was rumoured - much to his annoyance, apparently - to be considering taking on the rectorship of Imperial College. His spokesman responded by stressing that he remained focused on running Glaxo Wellcome.
The son of a carpenter from Yorkshire, Sir Richard left Royds Hall grammar school at 16 to work at the pathology laboratories of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. He then studied at night school to gain a place at Queen Elizabeth College, London, where he gained first-class honours in microbiology. After a doctorate at Bristol, he joined Glaxo as head of the antibiotic research unit.
Nine years at the Squibb Institute for Medical Research gave him a taste for the United States - its drive and enthusiasm made it his kind of place, he says. It also taught him about matching research and business.
He returned to the UK as deputy chief executive of research at Glaxo, helped mastermind the Pounds 9 billion takeover of Wellcome in 1995 and two years later was chairman of Glaxo Wellcome plc. He now earns more than Pounds 1.8 million per year.
A former governor of the University of Hertfordshire, and awarded a large number of honorary degrees, Sir Richard, 57, maintains strong links with higher education. He has served on the Dearing committee and the Council for Industry and Higher Education. But he recently warned that low university standards were threatening the UK's position as a pharmaceutical world leader.
He is married to Janet, a scientist, has two children and enjoys keep fit and opera. 'Sir Richard recently warned that low university standards were threatening the UK's
position as pharmaceutical world leader'