Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Kindler, Gentler Pfizer

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Kindler I thought yesterday's take in the Wall Street Journal on the "first 100 days" (so to speak) of the Jeffrey Kindler (left) administration at Pfizer was interesting, particularly in view of the Alan Murray column a week or so ago.  There he implied that companies turn to lawyers as CEOs to bail them out of trouble.  And the trouble at Pfizer was the departure (and severance package) of Kindler's predecessor, Henry McKinnell.  I suggested then the Pfizer directors were not going to put someone in charge of the largest pharmaceutical company in the world simply because he would choose his words carefully and manage the litigation well.

Yesterday's article (co-authored by Joann S. Lublin, whose writing both as reporter and columnist I have liked) provides a nice perspective.  Here are some of the comments on his tenure so far:

- "Mr. Kindler has won high marks from the board for his boldness, speed of action and frequent communication with directors. . . ."

- He has reshuffled the executive team, cut the U.S. sales force by 20% and raised the company dividend by 21%.

- "He has come across as likeable and accessible with Wall Street and has pacified critics of the company's transparency by putting its drug pipeline online."

- He has replaced the top human resources executive, and is "tapping Korn [Consulting] to help him rework the company's culture and aid in its transformation."

Once again, a personal note.  When I was the general counsel at Great Lakes Chemical, we had a piece of litigation (Great Lakes Chemical Corp. v. Monsanto, for those of you who used it to teach the Howey test for "what is a security" under federal securities law) that had dragged on for years as the defendants were, seriatim, gobbled up by bigger companies (Monsanto to Pharmacia to Pfizer).  I had come to the conclusion that we needed to reset our sights, and get the case settled for an honorable amount.  At the time, Jeff Kindler was my counterpart at Pfizer (if counterpart doesn't over-flatter me), and at about 7:00 p.m. one evening, I called Pfizer's headquarters in New York, got the automated attendant, selected Kindler from the directory, and rang his line.  To my surprise, he picked up the phone.  I introduced myself, and proposed that he and I step in and get the case settled.  Within a day, he had delegated it to one of his lieutenants, who wanted to come up to speed, and within a couple weeks, we had the case settled on terms that pleased me.

All of that demonstrated a decisiveness (not the lawyer-bashing canard, "on one hand, but on the other hand") that is consistent with what I am reading now.  There is a myth of CEO-dom, particularly coming out of the GE culture (as noted earlier, Kindler was a Ben Heineman protege) that one person can hold back the tsunami if one is a good enough leader and manager, so I don't know whether Kindler will succeed or not at Pfizer, but this is a good story for now.

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Jeff, I appreciate your following up on these developments and being a voice of reason on issues of corporate responsibility and leadership that is not about assuming that anyone in it for a profit is bad. But of course my immediate reaction to your post is that only a former corporate officer would describe cutting by 20% the sales employees as "kindler, gentler." I know what you mean and what that was directed at, but I had to laugh.

Posted by: Childress | Jan 17, 2007 9:31:59 AM

My son was recently talking to me about the line from Annie Hall about relationships. Alvy says "relationships are like sharks. To live, they always have to be moving forward. And I think what we have here is a dead shark."

Companies are the same way. Restructurings and layoffs are part of the creative destruction that is a free market; even then there is a kinder and not-so-kinder way to do it. But failing to move forward leaves you with a dead shark.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Jan 17, 2007 9:59:24 AM

Yes, but think of what Damien Hirst could do with it? Something along the lines of "The Incomprehensibility of Layoffs to Someone Who Hasn't Experienced One".


Posted by: Frank | Jan 17, 2007 2:53:15 PM

And then he closed Ann Arbor. Nuff said.

Posted by: | Oct 22, 2007 10:37:47 PM

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