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August 8, 2005
Room At the Top?
Tangentially related to that last post is a thought that occurred to me while I was writing my monthly column for Contract Pharma magazine. It's on the place of chemists in a drug company, and in the scientific world in general. And what hit me was this: how many drug companies can you think of that are run by someone who came up through the med-chem department?
The only one I can think of, off the top of my head, is Vertex. (And that's because Joshua Boger left Merck to start his own company, so naturally he's the CEO.) But are there any examples of someone working their way up through the ranks?
Plenty of companies are run by M.D.s and MBAs. You don't see as many plain ol' PhDs. CEOs seem to come up through the clinical side and the marketing organization, but it's rare that one comes from the research side of a big drug company. And very few of that small group come from the chemistry department. Why might this be?
I'd like to think that the Jurgen explanation applies, and that we med-chemists are just too darn clever for top management. Frankly, that may be a little big of the explanation, but it's not enough of it to be useful. For one thing, some (not all) of those top managers are pretty brainy, and for another, I've known plenty of chemists who are dull enough for any job you could name.
I hate to advance this explanation, but perhaps part of the reason is social. There's a particular type of personality that tends to make it to the top of a large organization, and that profile doesn't overlap well with the types you find in research. There's some self-selection involved, too. Someone who makes it to the executive boardroom has most likely devoted most of their energy to getting there, and that's someone who would be unlikely to pursue a chemistry PhD. Why take the slow lane to power, or the scenic detour?
(Note: I'm aware that Margaret Thatcher has a chemistry degree - but it's not a doctorate, and she got out of the field pretty quickly and into politics.)
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