AbbVie CEO Lacks College Degrees

AbbVie CEO Lacks College Degrees

October 1st, 2012 // 2:19 pm @

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File this under ‘huh?’ In 1977, Richard Gonzalez joined Abbott Laboratories and climbed the managerial ranks before retiring in 2007 to battle cancer. He later returned and, last year, was named to head the forthcoming spin off of the pharma unit that will be called AbbVie (see this and this).Yet for several years, Abbott somehow misstated that Gonzalez held a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Houston and a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Miami in government filings, on its web site and elsewhere.

What happened? It’s not really clear. Here is the explanation that an Abbott (ABT) spokeswoman gave The Chicago Sun-Times: “There was an administrative error many years ago when the bio was written. When we became aware of it a while back, we corrected it promptly. I don’t have an exact date. There’s absolutely no issues with his educational background or ability to lead. He’s had a distinguished career reaching the highest levels in the company with a proven track record.”

We asked the Abbott spokeswoman to clarify what is meant by administrative error and how this was made, but have not yet heard back. Meanwhile, the implication is that, perhaps, his attendance at these schools was mistaken for graduation by someone – however many years ago – who listed the information in his Abbott records. But it remains unclear how many years ago the mistake was made and why it was not noticed sooner, especially if his educational records were recorded correctly when he joined the company.

Moreover, one would imagine – if this is not too much to ask – that Gonzalez himself might have noticed that his own bio gave him credit for holding degrees that he did not actually earn. However, there has, so far, not been any evidence to suggest that Gonzalez falsified his credentials or misled the drug and device maker, according to the published reports.

Nonetheless, the inaccurate information was misstated in at least nine regulatory filings between 2002 and 2007, and, not surprisingly, repeated countless times elsewhere ever since, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, which first reported the gaffe. Interestingly, Abbott did not include any biographical details about Gonzalez in regulatory filings about the spinoff since it was announced nearly a year ago, Crain’s noted.

Recently, Abbott corrected the info on its website, according to the spokeswoman (see here). Ironically, Abbott was quite meticulous about other matters involving Gonzalez. Earlier this year, Abbott was busy buying up domain names to fend off sneaky rivals and mischievous miscreants. For instance, a bunch of domain names related to Gonzalez were registered, including RichardGonzalessucks.us (see this).

As you know, such flaps have derailed careers and cost an exec a job or more. However, this particular episode does not appear similar to those situations in which an exec lied about a degree or some other important detail. Nonetheless, the circumstances – however they came about – require further explanation. Granted, Gonzalez proved himself sufficiently knowledgeable and politically adept to eventually become chief operating officer and to run AbbVie come January.

Experience, after all, should count for something. And in an era when the wisdom of a college degree is increasingly questioned, Gonzalez stands out as an example of someone who can succeed without a degree. Then again, no one has said he didn’t attend those universities, he simply didn’t graduate. Just the same, the situation is unusual and, given that he will soon become AbbVie ceo, perhaps the Abbott board should take a closer look at his credentials and ensure everything is truly in order.


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