September 07 2013

The Heart of Your Organization: What happened at Pfizer?

Is your heart (or your family’s or organization’s heart) prominent in the story line?  Your heart is too important to leave to chance!

My former employer, Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company had an impressive storyline… then something happened destroying “America’s most admired company” between 2001-2011 resulting in Fortune business magazine headline in August 2011, “What Happened at Pfizer:  The Story of Revenge, Betrayal and power.”  There was a collision of values as Pfizer faced some tough times.  The board ignored the facts and much could have been avoided.

In the 90’s CEO Bill Steere, inspired the company with strong values and a mission to improve the quality of patient’s lives and save lives inspired.  Pfizer marked and celebrated each step in their quest to become the world’s greatest company.  The heart of the organization was as important as it’s blockbuster products.  Pfizer captured the attention and respect of the business world…

Pfizer 1999

  • 1997, Fortune business magazine named Pfizer the most admired pharmaceutical company in the world”
  • 1999, Forbes “Company of the Year”

Then something drastically went wrong at Pfizer.

Hank McKinnell, Bill Steere’s handpicked successor, took over in January 2001 when Pfizer was at its peak. Pfizer couldn’t keep up with Wall Street’s expectations.  The pipeline went dry and leadership began grasping for solutions.  As Pfizer’s stock price plunged leadership turned its back on the values that made the company great.

Pfizer’s stock dropped 40% in value during McKinnell’s tenure, 2003-2006; yet even more devastating was the divisive culture that developed within the senior leadership ranks.  Jeffrey Kindler a “confrontational trial lawyer known for his aggressive, combative, blunt style” (Fortune August 2011) won the battle to succeed McKinnell.  “Kindler spun his leadership team like a top.”  During his tenure, 2007-2010, Pfizer’s stock price fell another 36%.

This destructive culture cascaded throughout the organization and Pfizer lost its way. They lost perspective and got desperate, failing to look backwards and reflect on the values and themes that made it great.  Their values were more critical now than ever before.

Goliath saw itself as invincible, above the law.  America’s most admired company was eroding from within.  The board was missing the obvious clues they were appeared to be ignoring their own story line.  Then suddenly, Pfizer appeared in the national headlines but this time the stories were very different.

Pfizer's leadership lost perspective!    The story of revenge, betrayal and power didn't stop in the executive suite... it was reflected throughout the 6 year battle of Dotson vs. Pfizer!

  • September 2, 2009 national headlines read:  “Pfizer Pharmaceuticals hit with the largest corporate fine in history:  $2.3 billion civil and criminal fine.”   CEO, Kindler was Pfizer’s General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer during the time of the crime.
  • Fortune Business Magazine August 2011’s cover story (right)
  • September 2013 headlines highlights Pfizer’s McKinnell in the article entitled “Executive Excess 2013:  Bailed Out, Booted, or Busted. McKinnell’s golden parachute of $198 million is at the top as an example of excess.

Pfizer’s board took care of the executives who oversaw the decline of the company yet they failed to ensure policies and procedures were in place to protect the employees.  As Pfizer was settling for the $2.3 billion fine they were simultaneously bullying employees; as told in my book Taking on Goliath, the story of Dotson vs. Pfizer (click here for a free preview).

When people speak of my case they often ask, “Why would Pfizer do this to you?”  I’ll never know the answer but I do know my story is one of hundreds of stories that will never be told.  Corporations routinely exchange money for silence as they hold former employees back to the wall with corporate separation agreements.

Who holds the organization accountable?  Board members need to stand for the truth and accept responsibility for poor decisions – individually and organizationally.

What story is your time line telling?  Pay close attention, reflect, study and identify the themes to ensure that you are having the impact you intend.  It is too important to leave to chance.  Your (individual, family’s, or organization’s) heart is worth it!

Categories: Business,Facing Difficulty


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    Todd Sedmak

    7 months ago

    Thank you brother for sharing! It is encouraging me as I encounter a heart issue too.

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