Why there's no sign of Pfizer among top pharma employers

By Fiona BARRY

- Last updated on GMT

RSA's Nick Stephens told in-Pharmatechnologist.com why Pfizer fared poorly in the poll. (Picture: Ben Frost/Flickr)
RSA's Nick Stephens told in-Pharmatechnologist.com why Pfizer fared poorly in the poll. (Picture: Ben Frost/Flickr)

Related tags Growth hormone

A head-hunter explains why Regeneron, Novo Nordisk and Genentech top a global survey of science employers, but Pfizer is nowhere to be seen in the top 20.

Science ​journal asked more than 5,000 science employees – from operatives and researchers to high-level execs – to rate their firms.

Results showed the most important driver was a company being “an innovative leader in the industry​”, closely followed by social responsibility, respect for staff, leadership, and work culture.

Nick Stephens, Executive Chairman of life sciences head-hunters RSA, told in-Pharmatechnologist.com he sees employees engage in pharma companies which “demonstrate commitment​” to their pipeline goals and to their employees. “They don’t have a bad quarter and call their VPs and say, ‘I don’t care how, take 15% of the cost out of the business now.’​”

They need consistency, not saying one thing and doing the other.​”

Pfizer problems

Some companies have failed in this regard, including the world’s largest biopharma, said Stephens. He noted Pfizer does not figure on the list, and said it suffers from “a dissonance between stated objectives and what they actually do.​”

Pfizer has been confused about what it is for some years now. It’s very Wall Street focused: ‘we’re the biggest and therefore the best.’ But actually, what have they done?​”

Since the acquisition of Parke-Davis [when it bought Warner-Lambert in 2000], it has spent over $100bn in acquisitions. Its market capitalisation is less than it was when it bought Parke-Davis. So it’s evaporated over $100bn.

So we sat down, Chris [Molloy, RSA CEO] and I – and worked out what could you do with $100bn – you could vaccinate the population of the planet for any 5 diseases. [So you ask,] ‘Am I really in the business of doing good?’

Top companies

The most popular companies in the survey were those which “rediscovered their mission​” to bring new drugs to patients after a 15-year lull when the industry was more interested in surmounting competitors’ patents and developing the next-generation statins, he said.

Novo Nordisk, second most popular in the poll after Regeneron, “has always been superb at [its mission]. They’ve wrapped themselves around the diabetes patient, so patients with diabetes are managed better than they were before.​”

Similarly, he said, Lilly (fifth place) has recently “restated a long-term vision​” and committed to CNS and ageing diseases, while Genentech and Roche (third and eighth) remain highly focused on their pipelines.

Clear strategy is important for staff, said Stephens, so they feel good about what they are working on, and so they do not see their employers as hypocritical.

It’s the difference between how the company behaves and what it says – ‘We’ll keep our infectious disease site in Sandwich [UK]’ – then it fires everyone.

This is not long-term thinking, and doesn’t move us closer to curing patients with cancer. It can make employees feel the only reason to go to work is for the salary.​”

‘Bad period’

The results of Science​'s survey​ placed 18 pharma companies in the top 20:


Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NY, US)


Novo Nordisk (Denmark)


Genentech (CA, US)


Vertex Pharmeceuticals (MA, US)


Eli Lilly (IN, US)


Monsanto (MO, US)


AbbVie (IL, US)


Roche - excluding Genentech (Switzerland)


Syngenta (Switzerland)


Biogen Idec (MA, US)


Novartis (Switzerland)


Abbott (IL, US)


Boehringer Ingelheim (Germany)


Actelion (Switzerland)


Celgene (NJ, US)


Bayer (Germany)


DuPont (DE, US)


Amgen (CA, US)


Johnson & Johnson (NJ, US)


Merck KGaA/Merck Serono (Germany)

RSA's Stephens commented, “The defining features of the first 13 are either they have always done very well, they have a strong contract with their employees in terms of demonstrating commitment to them, or they’ve just come out of a bad period.​”

Regeneron, AbbVie and Actelion (first, seventh, and 14th​ in the survey) have all recovered from recent difficult periods, he said. “The people at AbbVie have focused a lot on employee engagement.​”

Genentech, which came third, “is the benchmark biotech and also part of Roche – the people in Genentech have done extremely well post-acquisition [...] they’re seen as the future and they know that.​”

Novo Nordisk’s popularity (in second place) is obvious, said Stephens, due to Denmark’s very low levels of inequality: “the level of social contract, and the non-hierarchical and consensual workplace.​”

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