Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Does Novartis Hate Whistleblowers?

You be the judge after reading this story.

I didn't realize that I should probably write this article, until I got involved in the more recent Novartis Whistleblower story with David Olagunju, who was fired after he objected to Novartis messing around with clinical data - at least that is what he claims in his lawsuit.

So here's what happened to me, which made me wonder, a few years back: Does Novartis hate whistleblowers?

I had decided to look for work in another drug company. So I wrote an e-mail to Dr. Daniel Vasella, CEO of Novartis. He was apparently impressed, because he responded right away and set up a meeting for me with Thomas Ebeling, his right-hand man, who had joined Novartis from PepsiCo, and was CEO of Novartis' pharmaceutical business.

We met at Short Hills Hilton in NJ, and the interview went well. I also told him about my internal whistleblowing and what had concerned me, and he laughed at that part. We got along well and I really enjoyed the meeting.

So I was whisked over to Basel, Switzerland, and met with Dr. Vasella himself, and Novartis senior management, since I was interviewing for the German country manager job, one of Novartis' largest markets.

I also met Novartis' Head of Global HR.

And that's when something happened. I told him why I wanted to switch jobs and mentioned some of the ethical issues I'd brought up with Ebeling. The temperature in the room immediately went from sunshine to Arctic cold. Let's say he didn't have a poker face.

Even before I left the Novartis office in Basel, Ebeling told me that he had kind of laughed at those issues I had brought up, but others hadn't, and there would be no job offer.

Of course, this really made me wonder what those Swiss were up to . . . and what Novartis was hiding.

And I wouldn't have thought more about this, unless, quite some time later, I was invited to interview with Novartis again.

This time I went to London and met with two business people from Novartis, (see business cards to the left).

And they were impressed and recommended that I should go to Basel to meet key people.

I didn't want to waste my time, so I contacted Ebeling, and told him what was up, so that he could stop the whole thing if Novartis still had a problem with me.

But things went forward, and an agenda for the meeting was sent to me.

I was excited, ready to leave, and then, the day before I was going to take off, I got a call from one of the people who'd interviewed me.

He said that they'd found an internal candidate for the job, and I should cancel the trip. That was really last minute, and really weird, so I contacted the recruiter who'd set the whole thing up.

Unfortunately for Novartis, they had told her an entirely different story.

According to the recruiter, the head of Novartis HR had rushed in to the people doing the hiring and told them to immediately cancel my interview, without any explanation.

The recruiter was wondering what I could possibly have done to cause this reaction . . . since Novartis obviously wanted to make sure that no one at the company interviewed me.

I agreed that something very strange was going on.

I had gone from being a top candidate, with a performance good enough to get me interviewed personally by Dr. Vasella, to being a person they wanted to make sure no one made the mistake of hiring.

What is even more interesting, is that some time later, Novartis sent out a letter to all employees. It deals with whistleblowers.

Click on images below to read . . .

Quite an irony, I'd say.

And here is the Novartis Whistleblower manual . . . click on images to read:


Anonymous said...

The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place now. Before there was a letter by Vasella/Barlocher there was a letter by Thomas Ebeling just about two years before. At that time Dr.Rost did not even think of looking for work at Novartis. This letter was sent to all employees world wide just as the one in the post:
"This month's Harward Business Review features an article called " Is Silence Killing Your Company?". It provides some valuable case studies that demonstrate how important it is that we all take the "Speak up" initiative seriously. I recognise that some employees still have fears when it comes to speaking up at Novartis. If there are any instances where truly is a punishing or retaliatory environment within Novartis, this should be brought to attention of senior management."
Communication from Thomas Ebeling, 27/05/2003, 3.10 pm (by email).
Mr. Ebeling was ahead of his time we thought and were impressed with his "Speak up" initiative. Those who "really" tested it by speaking up on some heavy stuff did not fair well at all as Mr. O did. There were many before him too.
Why the letter by Vasella that supposedly encourages whistleblowers to come forward? Especially after they saw and spoke to a real life WBer, Dr. Rost.
Perhaps to flush out those potential WB before they go public by speaking up externally. Once they have them it is easier to deal with as we know from first hand experience dealing with the very people Dr. Rost dealt with, Thomas being one of them.
Can anyone do anything tangible about this type of abuse of others? Their own people on Cafepharma are hoping for. Also there are some promises that decisive steps will be taken not necessarily in US. That will be left for others.

Anonymous said...

I didn't understand why Dr. Rost's candidate interview schedule was dated May 16, 2003 and yet the NVS mail on "Reporting and Handling of Misconduct Cases" was dated nearly two years later, on March 21, 2005. However, the above poster states that a memo was sent out by Ebeling in May of '03, which makes more sense linking Dr. Rost as a catalyst to create such procedures. I cannot believe the arrogance of NPC!

Anonymous said...

LOVE THE LAST LINE....Being a WBer does not automatically give immunity to misconduct...What the hell kind of all by the way... if you pucker up and blow we will get you does that say

Anonymous said...

Here is somewhat better if not the right chronology of events:
Peter speaks to Thomas tells him about his WBing at his current pharma. Thomas laughted off and likes it. At about the same time or before he sees the article in HBR and he likes it too. Thomas being a top gun for big biz puts two and two together and comes up with his famous intiative "Speak up" at Novartis. He perhaps means well.
Others at Novartis drop Peter as Zelnorm recently and no second interview for him.
Sometimes in 2004 at very successful affiliate of Nov. in non-USA and non-Europe but first World country a WBer appears from nowhere with nasty stuff that went on there for years after the merger. The whistle is blown all the way to Basel. Luckily for Novartis the local gang manages to trick the WBer to sign a release and take few chicken bones for package and the WBer as per NOV Rx is out.
This is still 2004. The big boys in Basel learn the leson from this incident and they remember Dr. Rost now with his book out and blogging not at full speed yet but learning.
They conclude that it is far better to have the WBer do it internally so they issue the famous letter of March 2005 with the WBer manual and spread it over the NOV empire that straches into every corner of the Globe.
This new approach on top of "Speak Up" is designed to lure out any potential WBer under the guarantee of non-retaliation and so on.
If Dr. Rost and the local WBer did not directly influence these events they at least had given those in charge some ideas what to do to assure the best possible scenario for NOV. in case there is a WBer. When it does happen as they prefer it, the case is much easier to deal with it. The cover up, corrections and send off of the unfortunate WBer.
Almost a perfect bigpharma biz world. Isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Same thing happened to me, a mortgage industry Wber...I was approached by a Division SVP of a large bank...looking for a new Area Manager...I did 3 Phone interviews, and mentioned the problems with a previous employer and what I disclosed and how I was terminated, after 26 years in the business with no prior firings...The last interview was the HR person...the next day I was thanked and they had decided to "look at two other candidates".

Anonymous said...

Here is another piece of puzzle that is Novartis of today. For those of us how knew the companies murgered and from whose bodies this mega co was formed and wondered why this company became such a predatory type that is completely oposite what those two examplary companies were. Here is why; when a top PepsiCo exec like Thomas Ebelling is hired by pharma co, what does he do. Change himself to adopt to ethical ways of the pharma co. or he changes the ethical ways of pharma co into the ways he was pushing pepsi (not coke he came from pepsico) on the unsuspected populace?
His hire by Dr. Dan was done deliberatly for the purpose of changing the ways pills are sold to medical profession to be as effective as selling consumer goods. Does anyone wonder now why we have DTC advertising by the big pharma?
What is next Tom? Mixing your pills with Pepsi and bottling it?

Anonymous said...

For those fans of The Godfather movies, remember?
"My father always told me; Keep your friends close but your enemies closer".
This company obviously know and practice this principle.