Tuesday, November 27, 2007



Is Merck's Medicine Working?
Spurred by the Vioxx fiasco, CEO Clark is trying to revamp the drug giant's culture
Business week, July 30, 2007



This is a great article on the revamping of a major company faced with a crisis. I want to focus on the importance of “managing the cost, not the rate of failure” as part of the broader effort. I suggest going to the artcle: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_31/b4044063.htm?chan=search



Richard Clark was flustered and unprepared when he was thrust into the CEO job at Merck & Co. (MRK ) on May 5, 2005. It was the darkest hour in the pharmaceutical giant's 114-year history. Merck was drowning in liability suits stemming from Vioxx, its $2.5 billion-a-year arthritis drug, which it had to pull from the market because of a link to heart attacks and strokes. Two other blockbusters worth a combined $7 billion in annual sales were facing patent expirations. And Merck's labs, which other companies once hailed as a bastion of scientific innovation, were crippled by a culture that buried good ideas under layers of bureaucracy. But in the morass, Clark saw opportunity. "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste," says the CEO……………

KILL FEE


If fraternizing with insurance executives sounds bizarre, consider this: Merck is rewarding scientists for failure. One of the hardest decisions any scientist has to make is when to abandon an experimental drug that's not working. An inability to admit failure leads to inefficiencies. A scientist may spend months and tens of thousands of dollars studying a compound, hoping for a result he or she knows likely won't come, rather than pitching in on a project with a better chance of turning into a viable drug. So Kim is promising stock options to scientists who bail out on losing projects. It's not the loss per se that's being rewarded but the decision to accept failure and move on. "You can't change the truth. You can only delay how long it takes to find it out," Kim says. "If you're a good scientist, you want to spend your time and the company's money on something that's going to lead to success."

Management consultants say rewarding misses as well as hits is the right idea, and one that the entire industry will need to adopt. "The earlier you determine when something should be killed, the better," says Charlie Beaver, vice-president at consultant Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. Still, he warns, changing a corporate culture from one that thrives on success to one that also accepts failure "is a very large hurdle to overcome."

While Clark is encouraged by the results of his changes so far, he's still haunted by the culture of complacency that left companies like his stuck in an innovation rut. "If you ever feel comfortable that your model is the right model, you end up where the industry is today," he says. "It's always going to be continuous improvement. We will never declare victory."

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