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June 11, 2008
More On the GSK Layoffs
Thoughts on the GSK cutbacks, whose size, interestingly, is reported by Reuters this morning as (only) 350 jobs (i.e. 2%) worldwide, a figure which does not jibe with what I've been hearing from various people on the ground:
1. If the company seriously expects external collaborations to run at the same level of detail and efficiency as their internal research, they’re kidding themselves. I think – or hope – that they’re smarter than that, and that they’re planning to mostly just buy these things outright, as with Sirtris, rather than strike collaborative deals for them. Of course, they now have fewer people to prosecute the fruits of those acquisitions, but someone appears to think the numbers add up.
2. Doesn’t a statement that you’re going to emphasize external research rather than internal stand as an indictment of upper management? After all, who set the priorities and funded the programs? They surely won’t let individual project leaders or area heads explain lack of progress as “just one of those things, you know how it goes”, so how to explain what is apparently a catastrophic lack of progress across the board? And what does this say about the whole “Centers of Excellence” framework for drug discovery, erected some years ago at great cost of time and money?
3. Still, if you’re going to do such as thing as cut half your research staff, it’s probably better to go ahead and
do it the way that GSK did. Update: see the comments. This has actually dragged on for a while, and productivity appears to have gone where it goes in the sentence after next. Get it over with in one day rather than spread it out over time, department by department. The latter method sends productivity straight to hell. The death-of-a-thousand-cuts routine tends to terrify and dismay everyone, even in areas that are left untouched, and it sends a lot of good people out the door on their own.
4. But it’s not that productivity is going to be anything wonderful at GSK now. The people that are left will feel (will have felt?) a brief interval of relief that they still have jobs. But that’s followed by the employment equivalent of survivor guilt as they watch longtime colleagues go out the door, and on the heels of that comes the realization that nothing in particular holds the company back from doing the same thing to them, whenever it sees fit. That brings on (rightly) a feeling that you owe your company exactly as much loyalty as it seems to owe you. Many good people will be looking for the door themselves, and will be gone as soon as an opportunity presents itself.
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