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Pfizer CEO on PR Offensive

If you have problems, the best PR method is to acknowledge this and then to state what you're doing about the difficulties.

And this is exactly how Jeff Kindler starts out his new role as Pfizer CEO.

He knows every major newspaper has written about the tough fight between him and the two colleagues who lost out on the CEO job. So now, suddenly, "informed sources" are leaking.

Take the WSJ today. They have a most interesting article headlined, "CEO Can Mend Division Caused by Race to Top."

I'll pull out a few snippets and comment on those:

Less than two hours after Pfizer Inc. named him chief executive last month, Jeffrey Kindler reached out to the disappointed losers in the highly visible 18-month succession battle.

Over the next two days, Mr. Kindler chatted by phone several times with Karen Katen and David Shedlarz, his inside rivals to lead the world's biggest drug concern, people familiar with the situation say. "I need your help. The company needs your help," Mr. Kindler told each executive, according to an informed person.

So here we have the first "informed person" talking. Only Mr. Kindler was on the phone with Ms. Katen and Mr. Shedlarz and it is clear he wants the world to know that he did try to reach out to them.

Pfizer's intensely watched horse race polarized staffers. Days before outside directors promoted Mr. Kindler, they received an anonymous letter criticizing his leadership style.

Please note that while the WSJ refers to the "anonymous letter" which the board and New York Times received, it isn't clear if the WSJ really received a copy of this letter.

Last Monday, his first workday as CEO, Mr. Kindler sent an email to each of the company's roughly 105,000 employees praising Ms. Katen, Mr. Shedlarz and Mr. McKinnell for contributing "so much to the growth and success of Pfizer."

On Wednesday, Mr. Kindler, Ms. Katen and Mr. Shedlarz held a 90-minute conference call with senior managers "to show unity. Everybody [in management] understands [Ms. Katen and Mr. Shedlarz] are hurt and they're a little shaky and they could get offers and walk out millionaires," the informed person says. During the call and at sessions with other staffers, a Pfizer spokesman says, Mr. Kindler pledged to put "people in the best possible position to succeed." The spokesman declines further comment.

That's the second time we have an anonymous "spokesperson" happily telling the WSJ what is going on. Of course, Mr. Kindler wanted the WSJ to know.

Mr. Kindler, 51 years old, joined Pfizer in 2002 as its top lawyer. By contrast, Ms. Katen and Mr. Shedlarz have spent their entire careers at the drug maker. Ms. Katen, 57, heads the human-health group, Pfizer's most important unit. Mr. Shedlarz, the 58-year-old former finance chief, is well known on Wall Street. "I love this company," each wrote in separate company-wide letters last week. Neither missive praised their new leader, however. Ms. Katen acknowledged she felt "personally disappointed" by the board's decision.

Here's the unmistakable WSJ style of reporting, without being offensive. Neither missive praised their new leader, however. And that's what would really have been appropriate in this situation. And who knows, maybe it was Pfizer's PR department which pointed this out to the WSJ. We will never know.

Ms. Katen has far more operational experience than her new boss, and directors briefly considered naming her president under Mr. Kindler, the informed person says. Other board members favored giving Mr. Shedlarz the presidency. The Pfizer board chose not to name either immediately because they want a hands-on CEO, according to people familiar with the situation. Directors also felt that Mr. Kindler should have free rein "to put together a very strong management team," another knowledgeable individual reports.

Again an "informed person." I guess, based on these comments, the directors felt that they wouldn't stand in Mr. Kindler's way if he completely reshuffled the deck . . . and Mr. Kindler probably wanted the world to know about that as well.

There is lots of interesting stuff to read, just remember, whatever we read, has been authorized by someone.

To be continued.


Anonymous TheDarkSide said...

Kill them with kindness! The old mis-direction method works very well. The "godfather" gives you a kiss before you are whacked.
The real question is, "How long before Ms. Katen and Mr. Shedlarz leave and who will replace them?". I would guess that Karl Rove types would be desired.
Once Ms. Katen and Mr. Shedlarz realize the culture has changed they will leave voluntarily. Sometimes "kissing the ring" is not enough. You have to have the vision.
The pressure to leave will be low-key, steady and relentless.
Ms. Katen and Mr. Shedlarz leaving might be the best thing for a company that has lost its direction. They both sound like very capable administrators but lack vision.
An interesting question you need to ask yourself, and you may already have, is, "Would Kindler keep me? Would I want to stay?"

Anonymous TheDarkSIde said...

As part of the new image building Mr. Kindler will want to move quickly to settle any oustanding lawsuits. This would include yours.
Are you ready to settle?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to note that Pfizer has cleared an entire Brazilian rain-forest of valuable trees (and potential cures) to print its values on posters, calendars and mobiles which hang from the ceilings of NY corporate headquarters. You'd think this tremendous spend on internal PR would have influenced the values practiced my Kindler, McKinnel, Katen and others on down the line. And if you believe that, I’ve got some rain forests full of trees in Brazil to sell you.

Pfizer Values:

We demand of ourselves and others the highest ethical standards, and our products and processes will be of the highest quality.

Respect for People
We recognize that people are the cornerstone of Pfizer's success, we value our diversity as a source of strength, and we are proud of Pfizer's history of treating people with respect and dignity.

Customer Focus
We are deeply committed to meeting the needs of our customers, and we constantly focus on customer satisfaction.

We play an active role in making every country and community in which we operate a better place to live and work, knowing that the ongoing vitality of our host nations and local communities has a direct impact on the long-term health of our business.

Innovation is the key to improving health and sustaining Pfizer's growth and profitability.

We know that to be a successful company we must work together, frequently transcending organizational and geographical boundaries to meet the changing needs of our customers.

We strive for continuous improvement in our performance, measuring results carefully, and ensuring that integrity and respect for people are never compromised.

We believe that leaders empower those around them by sharing knowledge and rewarding outstanding individual effort. Leaders are those who step forward to achieve difficult goals, envisioning what needs to happen and motivating others.

Quality is ingrained in the work of our colleagues and all our Values. We are dedicated to the delivery of quality healthcare around the world. Our business practices and processes are designed to achieve quality results that exceed the expectations of all of our stakeholders.

Blogger Peter Rost said...

I'm delighted, it's been a while since I interacted with former pharma colleagues, so to have a Pfizer colleague visit my site and participate in the debate, that's just great.

And the values . . . yeah. I guess I shouldn't say more. The internal Pfizer survey a few years back said it all. Not the most recent one with censored questions, the earlier one.


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