Here’s a fascinating account at Fortune of the departure of Jeff Kindler as Pfizer’s CEO. The magazine says that they interviewed over 100 people to round up the details, but some of these meetings only feature four or five people in a room, so that narrows things down a bit. It’s also a back-room history of Pfizer over the last ten or fifteen years, and there’s a lot of high-level political stuff that wasn’t widely known at the time:
McKinnell kept boosting R&D budgets, maintaining Pfizer’s “shots on goal” approach — the more compounds you explored, in theory, the more drugs you’d generate. But drugs can take a full decade to be developed and approved, and nothing big would be ready for years.
So McKinnell fell back on the refuge of the desperate pharma CEO: In July 2002 he announced the acquisition of Pharmacia, the industry’s seventh-largest company, for $60 billion in stock. But even as Pfizer struggled to digest this latest meal, McKinnell seemed to spend less and less time at headquarters, becoming head of industry trade groups, funding an institute in Africa to combat AIDS, even writing a book about reforming health care.
That left a power vacuum, and Bill Steere, the former CEO, seemed more than willing to fill it. . .”He says almost nothing,” says a person familiar with Pfizer’s board. “But people look to him to see how he nods and how he moves, because he knows the company better than anyone.”
With Pfizer no longer soaring, internal squabbling intensified. Vexed by what he viewed as Steere’s meddling, McKinnell even tried to terminate his consulting contract. Steere fended off that move. Support for him ran deep on the board: Later, when Steere turned 72, the mandatory retirement age for directors, the board raised it to 73 so he could stick around, then amended the provision again when he hit that limit.
Steere and McKinnell, former friends and colleagues, became mortal enemies. . .
Read the whole thing, if you’re interested in either Pfizer or the way that human beings behave at this level of a large corporation: anonymous letters, secret meetings, all varieties of intrigue. 14th-century Florence can offer little more in the way of power politics. There are those who swim in such waters like fish, but I’ve devoted time and effort trying to stay away.