Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pfizer brings life to my "If you've run McDonald's, you can run anything" metaphor!

In describing the absurd belief within executive circles (probably originating in the b-schools) that domain expertise is optional even in highly sophisticated and specialized industries such as biomedicine, I have used the derisive metaphor "They believe if you've run McDonald's, you can run anything..."

Pfizer has now brought my metaphor to life:

A Long Shot Becomes Pfizer's Latest Chief Executive

In an abrupt move yesterday, Pfizer named its general counsel, Jeffrey B. Kindler, as chief executive, succeeding Henry A. McKinnell, who had been expected to resign in February 2008 ... Analysts and investors had viewed Mr. Kindler, 51, as a long shot for the job at Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker. Unlike the other candidates, who are longtime employees, Mr. Kindler came to Pfizer four years ago from McDonald’s, the restaurant chain, and has no other pharmaceutical industry experience. He served as general counsel at McDonald’s and was president of the company’s smaller brands, like Boston Market.

So, it has been decided that a lawyer (see also: no science or biomedical background) who ran fast food emporiums will now run a huge multinational pharma company. I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry.

I do wish Pfizer and its stockholders the best of luck, after watching another non-scientist take another pharma company from the heights of scientist-led glory to where it is today.

It's not all bad, however. It is possible that Pfizer employees will be the beneficiaries of better, tastier chicken and hamburgers in the corporate cafeterias.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

This appointment may have more to do with all of the drug companies ongoing legal problems than it does industry experience. Corporate America has a very short concept of time and may be looking for a person to deal with problems today, not the long term health of the organization.

You are correct in that b-schools do teach that industry experience is optional. Today the JD is the new MBA.

Remember that drug companies are driven first by marketing, then legal, and far down the list is the science. If you don't believe me look at any drug companies financials and you will see people spend their money where they put their priorities. In a sales organization it is all about the sale. Customer value, need, or even safety are not even considered.

Who better to manage this system than an attorney.

Steve Lucas

Roy M. Poses MD said...

It's interesting to note that according to the WSJ, when Kindler worked for McDonalds, he had to spend time actually working behind the counter at a McDonald's restaurant. His worst fear was seeing two bus-loads of school children pull into the parking lot.

So at least McDonald's requires all executives to have some familiarity with what its operations are really about.

I don't know of many health care organizations, however, that require their management have at least minimal experience with health care in the trenches. What if every hospital and academic medical center executive had to spend one month a year as a nurse's aid?

And of course, the two other candidates for the CEO position at Pfizer were a financial expert and a marketing expert. Not one of the candidates seemed to have real expertise in biomedical science, medicine, or public health.

Having health care leaders who actually have some understanding what it's like to "do health care" might improve a lot of health care organizations.

Anonymous said...

Steve Lucas wrote: "Remember that drug companies are driven first by marketing, then legal, and far down the list is the science."

As Merck rations access by its scientists to essential tools for drug discovery like CAS SciFinder and Beilstein Crossfire, that comes as no surprise.

Anonymous said...

At least the fellow was in a higher position at McDonald's, though. I worked in claims a while back for a company that got their unit supervisor from a previous job at, I think McDonald's, or perhaps a shoe store (not sure which was the most recent, perhaps from Mc D's to the shoe store, most likely, but I never asked specifics). She was calling the Oklahoma hospital client "retarded" in front of staffers that she was put in charge of.

People with that level of low professionalism shouldn't even be at McDonald's if you ask me, so this Pfizer thing really stood out when I read it.

But some businesses are strict about industry experience. Look at the website for Revenue Cycle Solutions out of Westchester, Illinois and look at what they require of their reps. I was very impressed, especially since those types of companies are under fire now with the bad PR going over the charity care and aggressive billing/collections work that is done.

If hospitals outsource any of their business office functions, then they would be best advised to go with someone who demands industry experience and know...behind-the-counter-at-Mc Donald's.