Recently, I came across this Newsweek interview of Jeff Kindler, CEO of Pfizer. His candor is refreshing. I only reproduce bits and pieces here. I trust nothing was lost in translation.
Q: How much is your business, like Hollywood (or Bollywood), a hit-driven business, built on blockbuster drugs like Viagra and Lipitor?
K: I’d say it’s more like golf, where you hit the ball and nine out of 10 times you slice it and it ends up in the rough. You hope the 10th time you get it on the fairway, at least I do. The pharmaceutical business has been highly dependent on golf and probably will be for the foreseeable future.
Q: You’ve announced plans to cut 10,000 jobs. How do you convince the remaining employees that Pfizer is a good place to be?
K: I say to them, “take a look at those losers over at CafePharma with nothing to do all day but bitch online about being laid off. You don’t want to be one of those, do you?” That usually gets them focused!
Q: Has the industry done a good job of justifying the price of prescription medicines?
K: What needs justification? I think the price is exactly where it needs to be. If any justification is necessary, I’d say to people, go and discover (or buy from Japan) these drugs yourselves and see how far YOU get!
Q: Has the industry done a good job of justifying its marketing costs?
K: Justify this, justify that! Didn’t I just finish answering a question about justification? Anyway, regarding marketing costs, would you ask a question like that of Pepsi or Coke? Or Chyrsler? But, hey, I hear ya! That’s why we made Jarvik — a real doctor — our Lipitor spokesperson. But he’s expensive! And I’m not sure I’m comfortable with his sexual orientation. For our upcoming Celebrex TV ad campaign, we plan to use Joe Namath — I hear he’s cheap.
Q: What’s your advice to young leaders in businesses dealing with government or regulators?
K: Crush ’em like bugs! No, I’m just kidding! You need to think of them as your consultants. God knows we pay them enough! Now, that doesn’t mean you’re always going to agree with them … But you have to, as you would with any consultant, try to make them understand who’s the boss and who’s not the boss. That usually allows us to find win-win solutions, by which I mean win for us and win again for us.
Q: What’s surprised you most about being a CEO?
K: The job is much more lucrative than I even imagined. In that department, I’m doing so much better than our investors, customers, and employees, not to mention government officials, patients or the public.