AstraZeneca Regional Sales Director Fired after Question Authority Revealed His Comments.
Those of you following my blog know that I broke the story about the AstraZeneca Regional Sales Director who was quoted in an AstraZeneca Oncology Newsletter saying "there is a big bucket of money sitting in every [doctor's] office."
AstraZeneca reacted swiftly: They fired Michael Zubillaga today. This is how big pharma operates. AstraZeneca lacked the internal controls to make sure the truth didn't get out, and now they are trying to show they are holier than thou, by firing the guy who said what everyone knows to be true. Of course sales reps and drug companies regard doctor's offices as buckets of money, ready to be taken. And so, instead of a reprimand, Astra Zeneca created a sacrificial lamb to cover their corporate rear end.
Astra sales manager fired over his comments in a newsletter
By Thomas Ginsberg
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
AstraZeneca P.L.C., the pharmaceutical giant with U.S. headquarters near Wilmington, summarily fired a regional sales director from Kennett Square today after his avaricious advice for sales people found its way to the Internet.
Michael Zubillaga, 50, made the comments in an internal Oncology Newsletter, published by and for employees at AstraZeneca's Mid-Atlantic Business Center in Wayne.
In a Q&A section of the newsletter's winter edition, Zubillaga is quoted stating three sales goals for calling on cancer doctors' offices for 2007. His goal No. 3:
"Call Execution - Not making the calls you are supposed to make does not drive your business. I see it like this: there is a big bucket of money sitting in every office. Every time you go in, you reach your hand in the bucket and grab a handful. The more times you are in, the more money goes in your pocket. Every time you make a call, you are looking to make more money."
Little in the statement would surprise sales people, their critics or, for that matter, most physicians they call on. And Zubillaga did, at another point, don the industry's standard patients-first mantle: "Hold your doctors accountable for the data we have, so that patients are getting the best treatment."
Still, the low-level manager's comments in a company newsletter, no less one dealing with cancer, quickly made waves on the Internet after industry bloggers Peter Rost and Ed Silverman published it.
In a statement this evening, the company said Zubillaga had been fired.
"AstraZeneca strongly repudiates the negative comments made in this newsletter," the statement said. "This newsletter was produced outside of AstraZeneca's required approval and review processes."
Messages left for Zubillaga at his home and work were not returned.
AstraZeneca spokeswoman Kirsten Evaire said Zubillaga was fired not for actual improper conduct, but for his comments, which violated the company's "robust compliance program that calls for responsible sales and marketing practices and conduct."
"All of our sales representatives are trained under these guidelines," the statement said. "We will reiterate with employees the importance of adhering to the highest ethical standards and all our compliance policies."
Asked whether Zubillaga was fired for merely speaking his mind, Evaire said: "Our statement speaks to everything we have to say about the situation."
Zubillaga's comments lit up several blogs and chat boards on the Internet, some condemning Zubillaga for propagating a negative image and others complimenting him for speaking the truth - even while predicting he would be fired for it.
"Crass, but some may well be motivated by such imagery," said Silverman in a post on his blog Pharmalot.com. "Of course, many docs know that's what the sales teams think of them. That's why some docs hold out for expensive meals, nice trips and good seats to good games, and why others won't let the sales rep past reception."
AstraZeneca employs about 4,500, throughout the Philadelphia-Wilmington region.
April 6, 2007, 7:57 pm
AstraZeneca Dismisses Sales Exec In Internet Flap
Posted by Scott Hensley, Wall Street Journal
Drug giant AstraZeneca fired a cancer medicine sales executive whose alleged comments comparing doctors’ offices to “a big bucket of money” in a newsletter for company employees caused a stir on the Internet.
Mike Zubillaga, a regional sales director at AstraZeneca, allegedly told reps in an interview for the internal newsletter: “There is a big bucket of money sitting in every office. Every time you go in, you reach your hand in the bucket and grab a handful. The more times you are in, the more money goes in your pocket. Every time you make a call, you are looking to make more money.”
While it’s a sales executive’s job to rouse his troops to action, the blunt language in the newsletter clashed with the company’s public statements of dedication to cancer patients.
Peter Rost, a former Pfizer marketing executive, posted an image of the newsletter on his blog Thursday. The newsletter sparked a vigorous discussion on Cafe Pharma, an Internet forum frequented by pharmaceutical sales reps.
Early Friday afternoon, a spokeswoman for AstraZeneca said Zubillaga wasn’t available for an interview and that the company was trying to ascertain the authenticity of the document containing his remarks. Late in the day, the spokeswoman wrote the Health Blog that the drug maker “strongly repudiates the negative comments made in this newsletter. Our company and employees are devoted to helping physicians provide their patients with the care they require.”
The newsletter was produced outside of “required approval and review processes, ” she wrote. Finally, the statement said that “swift disciplinary action has been taken and the employee whose comments were published has been terminated.”
The Health Blog’s call to Zubillaga’s office late Friday wasn’t immediately returned.