In these comments, below, I have been greatly enjoying a very civil, thoughtful discourse on the lessons-learned (and apparently, in some cases, not yet learned) from the ENHANCE data, and to a lesser degree, from the SANDS data. Do go look; but I did want to highlight one rather common theme (reiterated there) that I have read, and heard about, in many places — it’s a theme I suspect we will hear a lot more of, on this coming Thursday morning, May 8th. But, despite its prolific repetition, it is an error-riddled theme, in my opinion. Let’s take a look:
Having taken on the responsibility for the entire world to research and develop medicines with monumental risk and enormous cost; which drugs unquestionably save millions of lives, is it fair to measure big pharma solely in terms of cost while ignoring beneficial effects? Does pharma have the responsibility to provide drugs for free? Why? How does their incredible investment get rewarded if so? Why do we not challenge top executives in every industry to bring their pay scale into line at 100x the lowest paid employee? Reference your examination of the $30 Million package for Mr. Hassan and other top Schering executives in 2007.
In my opinion, this formulation gets all the questions just exactly backwards. It presumes a state-of-affairs that will never exist. Allow me to elaborate.
No one demanded that pharma “take on this responsibility” — these companies choose to do so because each wishes to make money (BTW that is, generally, a good thing!), and — to a lesser-extent — to improve human life. Now, most pharma companies manage to both, very, very well — make a lot of money, and greatly improve human health. And, I applaud them for that.
This whole notion that it is “either/or” — is beneath well-reasoned discourse on the subject — pharma people are smarter than this, and the public increasingly is, as well. No reasonable person argues all drugs should be given away, for free [that rhetoric employs a classic-formulation of the “strawman fallacy“]. For many years, pharma has done well — a good defensive play in lean times, and growing robustly in boom times — so there simply are no reasonable, comprehensive and reliable data to suggest that pharma, as a US industry, is teetering on the edge of the abyss (save the anecdotes of its CEOs, all of whom, by the way, seek tort immunity for any FDA approved product) — no, pharma is fine — alive and well. It just needs to stop shooting itself in the foot, chasing ever-increasing margins for flagship franchise products (think ENHANCE, here).
And to your CEO compensation points, while reasonable people may disagree about whether $30 million is “too much“, given Mr. Hassan’s 2007 performance, I would never begrudge the public-company-CEO a “very fair — very high — compensation” for truly outstanding performance — delivering immense (risk-adjusted) returns, and undertaking immense risks, well-managed — warrants out-sized compensation. That, with all due respect, is the opposite of the path Mr. Hassan has travelled, for at least one full-year, now.
He simply has not performed.
He blames most of Schering’s current woes on “unwarranted confusion“, which, he says, has been “created by the press“. That formulation of the problem cannot meet the “straight-faced” test. How can it be that a four year, $1 billion, 10 percent-of-the-workforce-elimination [oddly called a “productivity transformation program” — if Mr. Hassan’s remarks are to be believed, why is it not called a “CLARITY transformation program”?] or, “bath“, more accurately — is the remedy for “unwarranted confusion“? How can that be? If he actually believes his rhetoric, Mr. Hassan ought to simply pay his marketeers to clear up the confusion — spend about $100 million to provide CLARITY — do not fire 10 percent, spend $1 billion, and take four years to do so. C’mon, man — just tell the truth — like Mr. Clark (albeit partially) did, and [Ex-Merck CEO] Roy Vagelos, too (mostly) did.
Richard T. Clark, Merck’s CEO (and Mr. Hassan’s joint venture 50-50 partner on Vytorin/Zetia), to his credit, has come at least partially-clean: he admitted, last week, that the ENHANCE fall-out was not the fault of the press — it was, and is the fault of pharma. That is right.
Mr. Hassan has, with all due respect, let his focus on the short-term, quarter-to-quarter variations in net-profits obscure the real science, here. Until 2012, on the real science, Mr. Hassan will be definitively unable to say, for certain, whether his “confusion” was “unwarranted“. The science of IMPROVE-IT will tell him. But today, he tells us the confusion is unwarranted — all the while, he hacks away mightily, at his organization, and its people, rather than simply take on a campaign to clarify “these peoples’ misperceptions“.
There was a time when that sort of disingenuous ledger-domain earned a public-company’s CEO a pink-slip, and an active investigatory file-jacket at the local US Attorney’s office, as well as the regional branch of the SEC [if not a multi-count indictment, followed eventually by an orange jumpsuit-fitting-session, courtesy the rest of the DoJ, and the FBI]. In short, this sort of behavior simply does not comport with a $30 million pay-day (made final in April 2008, for 2007 performance) from the Schering-Plough Compensation Committee, of the full Board of Directors.
Now, when the Schering Form 10-Q files with the SEC (on or before May 10), we will learn whether other governmental agencies are already as skeptical as I am of “the spin” placed on these facts by Mr. Hassan — or whether, like those Yellowstone bears, they are just now coming out of winter hibernation, and rubbing massive paws over still-sleepy eyes, as they wearily react to Schering’s handling of ENHANCE debacle, as set forth in the stock-and-CEO-statements-timeline-chart, above [clickable to enlarge].
We do know already that Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington state, and New York Attorneys General all have active investigations underway — we also know there are at least 115 lawsuits, and two Congressional committee investigations, pending.
Finally(!), to be clear, I do not support some broad-brushed, rigid edict that a CEO should only make some ultimately-arbitary maximum-multiple of the hourly-workers’ annual take. No, I support the propostion/edict of promptly firing “lilly-gilder“-CEOs [and encouraging law enforcement to fully-prosecute such “message-spinning and truth-shading“, when it yanks $21.4 billion out of Schering’s market cap — see above graphic; click it to enlarge], all while truly-rewarding lions (ethical lions, mind you), like. . . well. . . lions.
But that’s just me.