Good Counsel

Law the Pfizer way: Jeffrey Kindler cracks down on counterfeiters, builds a private police force, and makes nice with OIG. Then he hires a foreign-policy expert.
Jul 01, 2006

Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell received a McCloy Award from the American Council on Germany for promoting transatlantic economic ties.
Jeffrey Kindler holds two blue, diamond-shaped pills in the palm of his hand. One is authentic Viagra, manufactured by Pfizer. The other is counterfeit, maybe bought by an undercover Pfizer investigator, or intercepted when smugglers crossed a border, or perhaps seized in a raid on an illegal Chinese factory. Kindler challenges visitors and fellow employees to tell the difference between the two pills. Neither looks in any obvious way "fake," and no one among the journalists, corporate communications employees, or even security specialists gathered in Pfizer's global security operations center cares to hazard a guess.

Kindler's List
In fact, the two pills are all but identical. Without a laboratory report, most experts would not be able to tell one from the other. And for just that reason, Kindler, the deliberate and measured general counsel, vice chairman, and—if you believe the mainstream business press—candidate to succeed Hank McKinnell as Pfizer's CEO, holds in his hand, both literally and symbolically, some of the most pressing intellectual-property, innovation, and security issues facing the pharmaceutical industry today.

Charlene Barshefsky
Unlike early crude counterfeits that emerged when Pfizer launched Viagra (sildenafil) in 1998, Kindler's two pills may well contain nearly the same dosage of active ingredient and react almost identically in the body. Producing such a pill infringes on Pfizer patents and trademarks, including the blue diamond form the company trademarked with the Viagra name. Or one of the pills could turn out to have no active ingredient, or to be poisonous. Introducing it into the legitimate pharmaceutical supply chain might cause problems ranging from customer dissatisfaction to illness or even death. All of these responsibilities, from safeguarding intellectual property to protecting the patient, even tracking down the counterfeiters, fall within Kindler's responsibilities at Pfizer.

"The lifeblood of a research-based, innovative company like ours is our intellectual property," Kindler says. "Apart from our people, our most important asset is our intellectual property. That's obviously very critical to innovation and to having the ability and the incentives to develop the new medicines of tomorrow."

Marc Brotman
In some respects, Kindler was an odd choice to be general counsel and vice chairman at Pfizer. Unlike most Big Pharma executives, he did not come up through the ranks. The company hired him away from McDonald's, where he started out as general counsel but became CEO of outside brands. Why did Pfizer want him?

"We were looking for a good attorney," says McKinnell, who recruited Kindler. "We would have preferred somebody with pharmaceutical experience obviously, but we felt we had that capability in house, and it was something over time that Jeff could learn. We ended up choosing the best general counsel rather than the best pharmaceutical general counsel."

Aaron Kornblum
Kindler learned the law from masters. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he clerked for two judges, including United States Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. From there he went to work as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly in Washington, DC. After making partner, he promptly jumped ship and joined the in-house counsel team at General Electric (GE), which, under the leadership of Benjamin Heineman (himself a Williams & Connolly alum), broke new ground in the late 1980s by hiring blue-chip talent at top salaries.

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