Kindler Undone: The Dysfunctional Pfizer Culture

Kindler Undone: The Dysfunctional Pfizer Culture

July 29th, 2011 // 12:47 pm @

For those curious as to what went down before Jeff Kindler unexpectedly resigned last December as the Pfizer ceo, a new treatise in Fortune magazine offers a behind-the-scenes look at the political infighting, overblown aspirations and inept calculations that contributed to his demise, as well as a decade of disappointment and a few spectacular failures at the big drugmaker.

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For Kindler, the end came in a plain vanilla Florida airport conference room where he was confronted by three board members, who – after probing a steady stream of confidential reports that his managerial style was overbearing, his behavior was increasingly erratic and his judgment was questionable – decided he must go. Essentially, he was given an ultimatum – with a lot of money.

The moment capped a tumultuous few years in which Kindler tried, but failed to recalibrate a withering strategic direction, but lacked the necessary experience to stick with decisions and rely on the right people – whether he inherited them or, sometimes, those he chose himself. He even upbraided a board member, losing his temper in the process, in front of other directors. In short, Kindler came undone, but not before alienating countless executives and alarming his own board.

“A decision is made, then reconsidered and changed. Decisions, even minor…are picked apart and often directed to be undone. Then re-studied. Then the decision-making group expands. Paranoia results. Autonomy is sapped,” an unnamed exec tells Fortune. Known to vacuum information, his reactions were feared. “Jeff heard something or read something,” a former HR exec says, “and there would be a barrage of e-mails in the middle of the night.”

Then there was George Evans, who was general counsel for the pharma division and worked at Pfizer for 26 years, but had been a candidate for the top legal job when Kindler was hired. After reading this boss was promoted to ceo, he resigned. “At the end of the day, you have to have some level of respect for the person you are working for,” Evans tells Fortune. “Having watched Jeff in action over a number of years, I just couldn’t work for a company that had him as its ceo.”

Kindler may have had good intentions, but he needlessly berated lieutenants, micro-managed decisions and demonstrated a blind spot toward those who undermined the enterprise. A key example was his willingness to bend over backwards to give former HR chief Mary McLeod huge compensation, including helicopter trips for commuting through an extended agreement (see this).

To Pfizer pfans, the central characters are familiar – Bill Steere, who presided over the board and maneuvered Kindler and his predecessor, Hank McKinnell, in and out of the corner office; Ian Read, the Pfizer lifer who is now ceo, but threatened to leave last year after deciding he also had seen enough of Kindler; Karen Katen and David Shedlarz, former Pfizer execs who vyed for the top job; and Amy Schulman, who apparently regretted going to work for Kindler as general counsel. And of course, there are a few board members, too.

Source: Pharmalot

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