Being of Service

January 1, 2002
Wayne Koberstein
Wayne Koberstein

Wayne Koberstein, a 25-year veteran of the publishing industry, is editor-in-chief of Pharmaceutical Executive magazine. In 14 years as PE's Editor, he has overseen the emergence of the magazine as the leading business and marketing publication for the global pharma industry. He has interviewed and profiled more than 150 top executives in pharmaceutical companies, as well as major regulatory and healthcare leaders, around the world. Wayne has also directed the launch of numerous supplements and other ancillary business for the publication.

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Small items sometimes bring big news. Merely the briefest of summaries, this nugget nevertheless caught my attention-describing a survey of young people's career aspirations. It reported a sudden drop off in US college graduates contemplating jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, as measured against the previous five years. Why? Bad press.

Small items sometimes bring big news. Merely the briefest of summaries, this nugget nevertheless caught my attention-describing a survey of young people's career aspirations. It reported a sudden drop off in US college graduates contemplating jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, as measured against the previous five years. Why? Bad press.

In short, the steady drumbeat of negative news involving the industry has worsened its reputation at the college level. Not that students abhor the business or hold to some ideology that condemns it. They just don't want to work where the extraordinary drive for double-digit growth and profits appears to require an indifference toward people outside the money circle. Headlines and detailed stories about companies preoccupied with protecting rather than extending their assets around the world contradict what young people want to believe about the industry-that it is in the business to save lives.

So, you say, these youngsters need a course in economics. Their naïveté, not to mention ignorance, is showing, is it not? A plausible point, were it not for the truth. These "kids" are nothing but practical; they want the good life as much as anyone else. By and large, they wouldn't deny the need to serve shareholders, but they also seem to believe in carrying service beyond that, to a wider perimeter of human beings.

Now the war gives those sentiments even greater weight. Without glorifying war itself, everyone understands it demands not altruism but interdependence. To defend ourselves, we agree to act selflessly, whenever the need arises. People typically expect more sacrifice from individuals than corporations. Yet, their tolerance extends only so far; meaning any company caught in a purely self-serving act, contrary to public service, will feel their wrath.

Even friends may desert the offending entity. Witness tough Tommy Thompson of HHS whittling Bayer down to size on Cipro. Secretary Thompson's unveiled threat to force-license the product should have sent shivers through every company in the industry.

In times of war, famine, pestilence, or plain ol' recession, be careful how loudly you celebrate your prosperity. And be wise in how you share it. Too much self-congratulatory beneficence can often blow up in your face, because it suggests you're hiding bigger treasures.

But a serious, can-do, roll-up-your-sleeves, willing-to-get-dirty approach to service will always win friends. One reason may be that it starts with an open question, "What can I do to help?" rather than a forced answer: A large, bolus infusion of that spirit might be just what the doctor ordered for this industry-transforming its entire state of being from a static sales-transaction model to a dynamic model of collaborative service. In this fresh historical moment, as more companies awaken to a larger human mission, they should seize this chance to raise their public stature, especially in the eyes of the next generation.

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