Thursday, February 17, 2011

After Manufacturing Problems, Genzyme CEO's Golden Parachute Means "Failure = Success"

In late 2009, I posted about problems at a Genzyme plant that manufactured some fabulously expensive drugs, e.g. Cerezyme whose cost to patients approximated $160,000 a year. We thought then that for a drug costing that much, the company ought to have figured out a conservative process to provide pure and unadulterated product. In a later post I asked why a company that could afford to make its CEO very rich could not afford to adequately maintain its manufacturing facilities. In May, 2010, I posted about a legal settlement of charges related to its manufacturing problems requiring Genzyme to pay a $175 million fine and function under US government supervision.  And in August, 2010, I posted about how this series of management missteps could lead to the company's CEO becoming even richer because they lead to a declining stock price, which increased the likely that the company would be bought out, which could trigger the CEO's golden parachute.  I suggested then that were this to happen, it would be a gross example of how massively perverse incentives stupendously reward the top brass of health care organizations for mediocre, or worse leadership and bad results for both patients/ clients/ customers and stock-holders alike.

Now it  looks like this will happen.  Yesterday, the Boston Globe reported:
Ggenzyme Corp., the largest biotechnology company in Massachusetts and one of the industry’s historic pioneers, has struck a definitive agreement to be bought by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis SA, in a deal valued at about $20.1 billion.

As a result of this deal,
Genzyme’s high-profile president and chief executive, Henri A. Termeer, who has run the company for 28 years, will resign following the close of the transaction. But he will advise Sanofi on integrating the two companies. Termeer built the company into a global operation with 10,000 employees worldwide and a business model that has been the envy of the biotechnology industry. He turns 65 on Feb. 28.

Termeer, though fiercely proud of Genzyme’s independence, stands to make more than $23 million when the sale is completed, according to a 'change of control' clause in his employment contract. In addition, as a major Genzyme shareholder, he would be in a position to cash out shares that last year were worth more than $275 million.

That and several other articles s noted that it was Genzyme's manufacturing problems that lead to the buy-out:
the string of events that made Genzyme vulnerable to a takeover began in the summer of 2009 when workers discovered viral contamination at Genzyme’s Allston Landing plant overlooking the Charles River.

Genzyme was forced to temporarily shut down and clean up the plant and ration shipments of its best-selling Cerezyme and Fabrazyme drugs, both of which treat enzyme deficiencies. The events created an opening for competitors such as Shire and Israel’s Protalix Biotherapeutics and sent Genzyme’s stock tumbling on the Nasdaq.

The dip in Genzyme’s share price drew activist investors, including Carl C. Icahn of New York and Ralph Whitworth of San Diego, who accumulated shares they hoped to sell at a rich premium. They pressured management to take steps to boost shareholder value, including a stock buyout and the elimination of 1,000 jobs worldwide.

Ultimately, the company gave Whitworth a seat on its board, and, after Icahn threatened to unseat Genzyme directors in a proxy battle, it granted two seats to his associates.

In many ways, industry watchers said, an acquisition became inevitable once Genzyme stumbled at its Allston plant.

A Bloomberg article noted that this sequence of events would lead to
The departure package [which] makes him 'one of the biggest all- time winners in biotech,' said [University of Michigan business professor Erik] Gordon, who has studied the pharmaceutical industry for three decades.

Our criticism of the Genzyme CEO's potential for reaping hugely perverse incentives was paralleled by Jim Edwards' critique of what actually happened:
Here’s how crazy CEO incentive compensation is: Genzyme (GENZ) CEO Henri Termeer walked away from his company with a payout that may be worth $300 million yesterday when Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) acquired his company. But the only reason Genzyme was acquired — triggering Termeer’s gargantuan change-of-control package — is because Termeer nearly ran his company into the ground, making his stock cheap enough for Sanofi to buy.

In other words, failure = success when it comes to change-of-control packages for CEOs.

So let me just repeat my conclusion from last August: As long as being a health care CEO is effectively a license to loot the company, is it any wonder that health care organizations continue to be badly lead, and health care costs soar while quality and access suffer?

Once more with feeling: real health care reform would require us to make health care executives truly accountable for their actions, and penalize them for those that are ill-informed, contemptuous of health care values, self-interested, or corrupt.


RemedyMD said...

Wow... What an eye-opening article. It is interesting how both in the leadership of health care organizations and also in the actual care itself there is a disincentive for success. Physicians and their practices are rewarded when patients keep coming back and are not getting better. When patients get better they lose money. What a messed up system. It's time for some serious reform. Check us out at

Scot M Silverstein MD said...

Perhaps all the pharmas need to be examined for this "strategy." I never could understand the mission-hostile decisions of very senior people at a large pharma I once worked for, depriving scientists of information tools essential (according to the scientific leaders) for drug discovery.

-- SS

JPB said...

Wow is right! When is this information going to hit the mainstream media? Oh but wait, they get a lot of advertising money from Pharma....