Want to work in pharma? Pirates need not apply

innovat-150x150POST SUMMARY: A pirate can function within a bureaucracy. Pirates support one another and support their leader in the accomplishment of a goal. A pirate can stay creative and on task in a difficult or hostile environment. A pirate can act independently and take intelligent risks, but always within the scope of the greater vision and the needs of the greater team.  One could argue that today the biopharma industry is in dire need of a lot more pirates.

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.” This quote, made back in the days of the original Mac development team, says a lot about how Steve viewed people and selected them for teams. It also speaks to the kind of team and team behavior he admired. To build a team, all organizations seek the best and the brightest people, particularly for their innovation and new product development organizations–that’s not what’s in question here. By seeking out the pirates, Steve took the idea a big step further.

I keep waiting for someone within the pharma industry to take a bold step forward, but they seem to take baby steps for fear of not “fitting in”.  When we talk about the best of marketing it refers more and more to consumer products while pharma marketers hide behind the “we’re a regulated industry” phrase.  Sure, there are some who are testing the waters in social media, but when we refer to DTC marketing we’re still stuck in bad marketing.


Then there are the people who make up the core of pharma marketing.  Early last week I talked to more than half a dozen former industry people to ask the question “is there a real lack of talent in pharma marketing?”.  The resounding answer was yes, but they frankly were OK with it because it meant more work for them and their agencies.  When I asked for some reasons as to why these problems still persist the consensus was “too many people focused on trying to fit in while collecting very good paychecks”.  In other words, they become slaves to their paychecks and will do anything to keep that check even if it means lowering the pirate flag.

Yesterday on an MS bike ride in Concord a large Cambridge biotech firm had a lot of riders.  Yet, as I looked at the team donations they were second behind the local bike chain.  How could this happen and why would they let this happen?  My answer was clearly visible as I told these riders that I was living with someone who had MS and to please not forget about patients.  Of the more than 8 people I mentioned this to only 1 person responded with a comment saying “we’re trying to get better”.  I know they probably donate a lot of money to “the cause” but this was a local even in their own backyard.  If a company is its people, then this one is in for a rude awakening in the near future and it’s a clear indication that there is a long way to go before more pirates change their culture.