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Posted on 28 June 2013

It is not what you say, it is the way you say it.

Posted in LINKEDIN  mentoring  MOTIVATING 

What can we learn from Pfizer?

The recent history of the top management at Pfizer raises some interesting issues, two of which are of particular interest to me. I have often thought that even the biggest companies reflect the personality of the CEO; some, like Apple, IBM and GEC under Jack Walsh make it a positive advantage, and while not everyone will agree with this, the majority are happy to see the CEO’s head on the block when things go wrong (BP’s oil spill, for example).

In the majority of cases, CEOs have spent a large part or all of their career with that particular company. When needs must, and new blood is needed to take the company in a new direction or to meet a special challenge, they can be at conflict. In Pfizer’s case, they brought in relative outsider Jeff Kindler - a man with a background in legal strategy at both General Electric and fast food giant McDonalds - specifically to address the urgent issue of a replacement for their phenomenally successful cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor.

Kindler joined Pfizer in 2002, and had made a good enough impression to be considered for CEO by 2008. It was what the board wanted, it was what the company needed, but it ended just two years later with a meeting which ultimately resulted in his resignation. Everyone knew what needed to be done, but it was the way Kindler went about it that appears to have upset most of the senior managers. Described as genial, but with ‘an aggressive, combative side’, Kindler antagonised many of his colleagues with his direct manner and late night emails.

This is a striking illustration of why it is so important to use the right language; the tone has to be in keeping with the ethos of the company. Even in the most challenging situations when decisive and fast action needs to be taken, more can be achieved with the right language, right down to calling a colleague at 7.00 on a Sunday morning or emailing them at midnight if the situation demands it.

With thanks to Peter Elkind and Jennifer Reingold, (with Doris Burke) for their article ‘ Inside Pfizer’s Palace Coup ’ in Fortune magazine, 15/8/11, which provided the background information to these thoughts.