On pharma companies: culture, people and profits

  • Pharma companies are making record profits and spending tens of millions of dollars on lobbying.
  • Pharma CEO’s have become detached from patients and now tend to see Wall Street as their primary customers.
  • Millennial’s working in pharma “expect to be laid off” and therefore they aren’t dedicated to the industry.
  • Despite company cultures there are many good people within the pharma industry who fight every day for patients.
  • No industry can be customer centric without good people who care about their customers.

Despite PhRMA’s rhetoric pharma companies are raking in the cash thanks to the prices of new drugs and the recent corporate tax cuts.  However, like the general economy, most of these profits are not finding their way to employees. Rather, they are being used to garner the attention of Wall Street analysts who are only interested in balance sheets.

Pharma CEO’s, for the most part, talk a good game, when it comes to patients, but still earn tens of millions of dollars based on financial company performance, not on patients well being or outcomes .   It’s an industry more about shareholder value now.

Company Culture

Pharma company culture usually consists of back-to-back meetings, open offices and matrix decision making which all make for slow decision making and an environment that penalizes creativity and punishes disruptive marketers.

“I have been here five years and been through three layoffs” an employee of a biotech company in Cambridge recently told me.  “I decided not to buy a house and use public transportation so I can save money in case I get the call from HR that I have been laid off” she continued.  “Has this affected the way you and other people work?”, I asked.  “Definitely” she said, “people are doing what’s best for them rather than what’s best for our customers” she said.

Despite these barriers I have found that there are still a lot of people within the industry who genuinely care about the people we serve.  I work with a lot of them everyday and I often have a deep sense of empathy for the battles they fight on behalf of patients.

Last month, based on some research our team led, we uncovered a key benefit that patients want and need in online communication.  To implement the program would have cost at least $500K but as one Director told me “it’s the right thing to do”.  Despite this she was asked to do a detailed ROI analysis that would take months and result in a potential competitive advantage being flushed away.  She took a risk and implemented the project anyway because she knew “it was a winner”.

How can we expect pharma companies to be patient focused when they treat their own employees like expendable cogs? How can pharma companies retain people when annual raises are often negated by increases in company benefits and the higher costs of fuel and groceries?

I have been critical of pharma, but only because I love the industry so much. There is no reward like listening to a patient talk about how a medication helped them live the life they choose.  

Don’t be too critical of the pharma industry without the understanding that there are people within the industry who really care.  Their voices are often muted by people who only see patients as dollars and cents rather than people who need help.  They are out there and they are THE ones who should be recognized by patient groups rather than worthless pharma magazine awards.

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