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I’m voting for “they don’t know what they’re doing”

In case I wasn’t clear yesterday on why Obama is not a people person, allow me to explain by giving an example of how things have worked in the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to picking corporate CEOs.

Jeffrey Kindler was a Harvard educated lawyer who ran McDonald’s partner brands (Boston Market? Chipotle Grill?) before someone recruited him to be a chief council at Pfizer.  He worked his way up to CEO and continued the rampage of buying and merging that his predecessor started.  By 2010, the bloated behemoth that was Pfizer, and all that it had swallowed, had lost 35% of its stock value.  All of my former colleagues at Wyeth were laid off in one fell swoop in 2009 and only a handful were hired back.  That was 19,000 people at Wyeth alone.  It was brutal and indiscriminate.  There were dedicated and excellent scientists who lost their careers in the middle of the Great Recession.  They did nothing wrong.  They were simply in the wrong place when a former McDonald’s executive decided to perform a little exploitative profit mining by absorbing the Wyeth pipeline, but, ehhhh, not all the research people who, you know, did all the work.

The pharmaceutical industry is full of stories like that.  There are many executives who know next to nothing about the industry they are managing. Their minions have the idea that the research staff are like day laborers whose jobs can be broken down into a series of burger flipping tasks, taking all of the curiosity and spontaneity out of the experimental process in order to save money.  It’s short sighted, destructive and shows a profound lack of understanding of the scientific method. But that’s not why the big executives were recruited.  They were recruited to make the shareholders money and right now, monetary incentives are not in the area of investing in science and research, which can be expensive and unpredictable.  Incentives run towards “get rich quick” schemes and extraction of value.

The damage has been done to many pharmas but the extraction will continue to the point of no return because the executives who are running these businesses don’t really understand the nature of the companies they run.  But that’s not why they were hired.  If they were hired to run research organizations, it wouldn’t be done this way. And the people that are hired to be executives are really not that much different than the people who run Wall Street.  They have an academic pedigree. These people are snobs.  It’s like an aristocracy.  There’s a level of ass-kissing but probably not as much as you think.  It’s more cutthroat than that.  More dog-eat-dog.  It’s a lot less glad handing than back room deals and “strike first” maneuvers.  What’s missing in all of the power grabbing is good management.

This is the world that Barack Obama comes from or could fit into easily.  He’s got the right pedigree, the right degree of ruthlessness and he’s more interested in “winning” by striking the right deal than driven by well-crafted policy.  The fact that he was African American was just icing on the cake to his recruiter.  It made for good theater and it gave them a hefty cudgel of racism to bash anyone who dared to criticize him.

This is not a world that values good management.  Day to day management and good stewardship gets in the way of the power game and winning.  Just look at the way Obama’s administration is planning to roll out the PR offensive for 2014.  It’s going to be about issues the administration’s brain trusts think will distract the Republicans.  It’s not about jobs or the economy.  It’s going to be about gun control.  Granted, gun control is important but it’s not going to put food on the table or fix what ails the economy.  And it could be a giant miscalculation.  But mostly, it’s game playing that is disconnected from the boring tasks associated with serving the people and governing well.

This is what the MBA/bonus/corporate lawyer class has been up to.  Given the disaster that the pharmaceutical industry is in, with layoffs a constant feature, a permanently underemployed research sector, perpetual restructuring and concentration of projects in cancer and orphan drugs to the exclusion of almost everything else, I’d have to say that they don’t know what they are doing.    These are not very imaginative people.  They’re not creative.  They follow trends and do what all their friends do just like brainless lemmings and I don’t mean to offend lemmings. Once they get it into their heads to extract a wealth, they have to come up with an excuse for doing it.  Then they decorate that excuse with biz speak and hypnotic memes so that before long, everyone is repeating the same damn things without any clue what it all means.

They can’t be trusted with their own checkbooks much less running big organizations or branches of government.  And in this environment, where crafting deals behind closed doors is where the real work takes place, glad handling and cultivating political relationships is a tedious, boring process done for show.  Pretty soon, we won’t need politicians at all.

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I found this while I was searching for more Tony Robinson’s documentaries on youtube.  This sums up 5 years of anger and frustration.  I couldn’t have said it better myself:

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