Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

I’m going to run off the reservation a little today. (OK, maybe more than a little, but, I think the point is important.) The media has been full of stories for most of this year about several, large corporations (e.g., Toyota, BP, Massey) that have gotten themselves into a lot of trouble. (Check out Matt Krantz’s USA Today June 4, 2010 article, .) Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about these companies and what’s the relationship with Big Pharma?

The connection is cost cutting. Relentless cost cutting to the exclusion of all else. I’m not implying that these companies are alone in this. The mantra of cost cutting to enhance shareholder value has been around for at least a generation. It sounds seductively simple, unnecessary costs should be eliminated. The good costs are those that enhance productivity and everyone goes home happy. Right?

Here’s where I’ve always had a problem with this rather simplistic view of things. What’s a good cost? The financial analysts and media tend to look at earnings per share (EPS) and year over year profits. The fact that routine maintenance costs, expert staff, and training costs for the remaining employees have been reduced, if not outright eliminated, seems to be glossed over. And, let’s not forget about research and development expenditures which might go a long way to explaining the drying up of the product pipelines at drug companies lately.

Corporations have been becoming increasingly complex for a long time. Managing complexity as many of our readers know from firsthand experience is no simple matter. So, how can a simple measure like how much less have we spent than last year be used while the business is not exactly simplifying?

Product recalls may prove to be leading indicators in the long run of underlying problems. Of course, that assumes the products are being recalled in the first place. Take a look over at the FDA’s website for drug recalls ( ) and ask yourself how can these things happen to companies like Pfizer?

Where I’m going with all this is what should we expect to see with Big Pharma and their smaller brethren? I’ve blogged before about how large life sciences companies are collections of products and services that are almost impossible for one executive to manage.

The argument of synergy is often trotted out, but, I have yet to see a consistent track record for that one. In fact, I can’t even think of a good stand alone example of one. (I invite the readership to post with any that they may be aware of.)

In closing, I believe that we are seeing the start of a new trend for business and especially in the life sciences sector and that is, large, complex businesses struggling to understand what expenditures are necessary and which aren’t. Since figuring this one out is tough, I expect that we’re going to see declining profits for some time.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

No comments: