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July 30, 2006
Pfizer's Man at the Top
I'm actually going to try to show some restraint and not make snide comments about Pfizer's announcement of a new CEO. True, Hank McKinnell is retiring at least a year before he said he was going to. But hey, I wouldn't want to be running Pfizer right now, either. And true, Pfizer's stock is down over 35% over his tenure - but as you can see from this chart, it wasn't until the first part of 2004 that PFE and the S&P 500 index definitively parted ways. And it's true that the new CEO, Jeffrey Kindler, is a lawyer rather than a scientist or businessman, has only been in the drug industry since 2002, and came to Pfizer from McDonald's.
The reason that I'm not throwing a fit about this is because I think, to a good first approximation, that it doesn't matter very much who the CEO of a large company is. As long as they're reasonably confident and competent, and not noticeably larcenous, it doesn't matter. I realize that I've just contradicted whole shelves of business books, but keep in mind that many of these are written by CEOs and/or the people that love them. I don't have much use for cults of personality, and that's what I think you get when you make too big a deal out of the top job. You can fill in the outlines of my opinion of, say, Jack Welch.
So I wish Jeffrey Kindler luck. As he's probably already noticed, he's in a rather different industry than the ones he's worked in before - and he shouldn't trust anyone who tries to tell him different. He should also show anyone the door who tries to make a case for exceptionalism, that Pfizer can succeed as a great behemoth because they're just so darn Pfizery. No, all he needs are a lot of smart, hard-working people, a lot of money, and - not least - some good fortune. Which is all anyone needs to be a success.
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