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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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February 25, 2009

Inspiration Is Where You Find It

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Posted by Derek

Have you ever worked for a company with its own corporate anthem? It would probably have to be a fairly large outfit; I don’t think a smaller shop would be able to afford such a thing, even if they somehow decided that they needed one. (Here’s some advice: if your small or medium-sized company rolls out its own song, strongly consider hitting the exits if you can. That’s the sort of mindless expenditure that only a behemoth can get away with).

I’ve encountered one of these, in one of my former positions. We were having some big site-wide meeting, and one of the honchos introduced the video clip. There are whole agencies who do these things – they write the songs, hire people to sing them, produce the video, and so on, and the product of one of these bizarre production companies was what we got to see.

And what a sight it was. A perfectly calibrated multiethnic assembly began to belt out our new company song with verve and enthusiasm. There were plenty of solo shots and different camera angles. It was all about dreams and teams, visions and decisions, exceeding and succeeding. The singers grinned, looked confidently up into the future, and joined hands as they got to the chorus. I watched all this with mounting dismay and horror, wanting to clap my hands over my ears, both to shut out the music and to keep my soul from trying to flee my body via my Eustachian tubes.

I don’t think that this was the reaction the song was meant to elicit, but I didn’t seem to be alone. As I left the auditorium with some of my fellow chemists, we speculated on whose idea this anthem might have been, how much it had cost, on whether the firm that produced it was from North Korea or not, and wondered how the experience of listening to it might have affected our lifespan and fertility. One of my group said that there surely must have been better songs available, and suggested that he personally would have been much more motivated by AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”.

I had to agree; that would have done it for me, too. I started imagining a re-take of the video: the same blue backdrop, one of our executives striding out, giving the camera a manly smile, and saying: “Yes, here at _____ Pharmaceuticals, we truly are on a Highway To Hell. Won’t you join us?” The same happy singers would come streaming out from both sides, swinging into the chorus. . .oh, that would have been much better. And overall, rather more accurate than all that “driven by our vision” stuff, too, now that I think about it.

Comments (27) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. Ed on February 25, 2009 8:41 AM writes...

It's not an anthem, but the whole Bayer (sorry Bayer-Schering) face paint thing really annoys me.

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2. Novartis on February 25, 2009 8:48 AM writes...

Case in point... "Novartis - The Science of Life". Hilariously awful. (I hope links are allowed)

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3. Anonymous on February 25, 2009 10:08 AM writes...

I understand the engineers at Hewlett-Packard were convinced It Was All Over when Carly Fiorina held an all-hands and came on stage in a sequin dress which was promptly illuminated by a spotlight. The ultimate Queen Bee moment.

HP stock rose in value 7% the day she left.

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4. Chemjobber on February 25, 2009 10:52 AM writes...

This brings to mind an interesting question: how do you motivate scientists? Obviously, the cheery-happy crap doesn't work -- when I've heard it, I've thought "what are you hiding?"

If you laid out a situation that was "we're in deep doo-doo. We need a lot of things to go right and we need everyone to work hard", would the scientists panic? Would they respond more to a no-BS talk or would they head for the exits? I think more the former than the latter, but not by much.

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5. CMC Guy on February 25, 2009 10:57 AM writes...

This falls in to the corporate culture mix that is often mentioned where big places often do not get it right. If an anthem comes from HR or Marketing it's probably doomed to acceptance in most other groups.

On the other hand at a small biotech I saw a skit/anthem delivered at the Christmas party one year that well reflected the company and certain individuals (with out names mentioned but everyone knew whom was being portrayed). It was done in fun and taken accordingly with even the CEO not taking offense by jibes. Unfortunately the company outgrew such interactions but there would be occasional reprises sung at meetings.

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6. Novartian on February 25, 2009 11:05 AM writes...

Oh god I remember hearing that Novartis song a couple years ago.... it's awful.... they should have fired the person who came up with that doozy...

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7. Anonymous on February 25, 2009 11:42 AM writes...

How about this one?

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8. Anonymous on February 25, 2009 11:53 AM writes...

I have had to endure 2 corporate songs in my time with two incarnations of the same company.

The first was "Simply the Best" by Tina Turner
The second was "Proud" by Heather Small

...brings tears to my eyes!

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9. RB Woodweird on February 25, 2009 12:22 PM writes...

Why don't they just set the company's ISO 9001 Quality Statement to music and be done with it?

Really, though, "White and Nerdy" is the only corporate song any pharma needs.

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10. Hap on February 25, 2009 1:34 PM writes...

Given that no one's going to throw scads of money at everyone, because it would make the stockholders unhappy and would reward both the good and bad, making people happy would likely involve making them feel valued and responsible for success, not just responsible for failure and irrelevant for success. It seems that people are treated as expendable no matter what they do (while lots of people who didn't contribute to success and in some cases contributed significantly to failure are handsomely rewarded, again whatever they do), and in that environment company songs and cheery talk by the people running the business isn't going to matter to those in the trenches. If anything, it makes people think about why their companies are writing and singing dorky songs to inspire them rather than treating them justly. Acknowledging and respecting the people that do a good job (and paying them accordingly) rather than pretending that you value them until the pink slips are printed up would help.

In the most optimal case, the CEO delivering a no-crapper probably helps only for small enough companies - for bigger places, lots of people probably will leave or ride on other people's willingness to work harder and sit back and see what happens.

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11. Hap on February 25, 2009 1:43 PM writes...

You know, the Fiorina moment sounds like a scene described in Acts where Herod gives a speech in a silver robe and is acclaimed as a god. Why does that sound so appropriate for her?

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12. JAB on February 25, 2009 2:33 PM writes...

And I thought it was weird when the NCI defined a particular color as NCI Red, supposed to be used on all brochures, newsletters, etc.....

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13. milkshake on February 25, 2009 3:06 PM writes...

I was at a very small company that was acquired by Hoechst-Marion Merell Dow. We had "team building sessions" with "Ground rules" poster in cafeteria. We had all managers and group leaders holding their hands in a circle and chanting "we are one team dedicated to our mission" after which they went back to their offices and immediately resumed the backstabbing. We got a special corporate culture-building advisor to organize these festivities, who used to work for AT&T before and had absolutely no idea about drug discovery.

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14. Lucifer on February 25, 2009 3:55 PM writes...

'Triumph of the Will' was a well done documentary.

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15. Petros on February 25, 2009 4:04 PM writes...

Vision 2010 at Bayer, ca 1990, was excrutiating enough but at least it didn't involve any songs.

Company songs sounds a more Japanese thing

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16. Petros on February 25, 2009 4:04 PM writes...

Vision 2010 at Bayer, ca 1990, was excrutiating enough but at least it didn't involve any songs.

Company songs sounds a more Japanese thing

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17. drug_hunter on February 25, 2009 4:35 PM writes...

Can't believe no one yet has mentioned the über classic, poster-child, unassailably-the-best-that-ever-will-be corporate anthem: the IBM fight song, "Ever Onward"

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18. MTK on February 25, 2009 6:25 PM writes...

#8 anon:

I was at "Simply the Best" also at one point. I didn't mind it that much. It was a little hokey obviously, but I thought it was somewhat clever given the initials of the company.

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19. Anonymous BMS Researcher on February 25, 2009 6:36 PM writes...

If BMS has a Company Song then it must be a very well-kept secret because I've never heard of it and I've been a BMS employee for over 10 years.

The best corporate song I know of is the PCR Song

My favorite line: "PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is."

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20. Pfizerite on February 25, 2009 9:12 PM writes...

One can't forget the new Pfizer anthem

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21. doctorpat on February 26, 2009 2:51 AM writes...

My Chinese wife has long been showing me hour after hour (or so it seems) of Chinese corporate songs. It seems that in China the cutoff point for having a corporate song is usually, but not always, having at least 2 employees in the entire company.
So all these tiny little firms with 2 or 3 staff members each have their own song, and dance, and perform it every morning as a warmup to starting work.

Once there is 15 or 20 staff members, they start to have choreography and professional videos.

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22. fred on February 26, 2009 8:49 AM writes...

When PFE dropped the neutron bomb on PHA, the Kalamazoo labs wrote a satirical "UpJohn World" based on Billy Joel's "Uptown girl".

I think Maureen McGovern's "There's got to be a morning after" might be a decent WYE anthem these days.

For DNA: The Police "Don't stand so close to me".

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23. Hap on February 26, 2009 10:25 AM writes...

I think Genentech might be better off with Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More".

Also, Biogen might want to send an MP3 of Pantera's "Five Minutes Alone" to Carl Icahn.

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24. Just kidding on February 26, 2009 10:44 AM writes...

Given that Bayer-Schering shut down virtually all research in the US (and Japan before that)and now has two main research centers in Germany (for it's "global discovery"), I'm guessing they just use the national anthem as their corporate anthem...."Deutschland ueber Alles"

Kind of goes with the face paint, if you ask me...

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25. Sili on February 27, 2009 11:25 AM writes...

As mentioned already, these things might actually work in a small company, if done by an actual employee with a bit of talent.

And anything by Cuttlefish ought to work.

both to shut out the music and to keep my soul from trying to flee my body via my Eustachian tubes.
This is why I keep coming back to read, despite not being very likely to ever do chemistry again.

If I ever make (/win) a bundle, I'll have to ask you to manage a pharm firm (Phirm?) for me - The Right Way.

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26. Anonymous on March 3, 2009 12:47 PM writes...

There's always Pfizer's "Excel and Exceed", which appears to have been pulled from You-tube, possibly out of sheer embarrassment

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27. Donough on May 6, 2011 2:13 AM writes...

Never experienced the anthem but have experienced the worthless momento. In this case the total cost of all the momentos (for 100 people) was around EUR15000. Half a years work no doubt would have been more useful (or a couple of students etc).

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