Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fewer layoffs, more firing?

You didn't coordinate with Biology to
get those assays completed in time?
Photo credit:
I enjoy reading the blog of Tom Ricks, the Washington Post's former longtime Pentagon correspondent. (He's since moved to the Center for a New American Security as a defense analyst.)

Ricks enjoys covering the Navy's habit of routinely firing the commanding officer (CO) of its ships and other shore units. Here, Ricks notes Commander Mike Varney, who was recently relieved for mishandling sensitive documents aboard the USS Seawolf. Here's the head of the Navy's Norfolk, VA shipyard, removed for his "command environment." Here's a post for a pair of COs removed for not stopping hazing amongst the crew of the USS Ponce.

I think Ricks thinks that the Navy's tradition of not hesitating to remove the CO of a unit is a good one, in that it's better to address a leadership problem sooner rather than later. While it certainly can be harsh (and it's well-known that captains can be removed for more-or-less bad luck), the Navy allows its ship captains to have quite a bit of freedom in their leadership styles in return.*

Would a policy like this work in the pharma industry? There aren't equivalents to ship captains in pharma, but I have noted that project managers have a special leadership role. I haven't been around long enough to note whether or not project managers get summarily removed for "lack of leadership" or other "Hey, you're just not getting the job done" issues.

Readers, what say you? Should pharma managers be removed from their positions more often (as opposed to waiting for layoffs or other attrition?) Have you seen it happen?

*It should also be noted that removal from command doesn't necessarily mean that you're immediately removed from the Navy; you're probably not going to commanding any more units, though. 


  1. They should go further - those who don't show sufficient initiative/aggression should be executed, 'pour encourager les autres'

    Oh, you mean the 21st century US navy, not the 18th century Royal Navy. My mistake...

  2. The tradition started somewhere -- looks like you found an origin.

    "Insufficient initiative and aggression" sounds like a common indictment of pharma, certainly.

  3. I spent a few years at a large pharmaceutical company and during that time watched the powers that be 1) repeatedly relieve the wrong people of their jobs during layoffs and 2) remove absolutely nobody (on either side of the Atlantic) at any other time.

    People should be removed from their positions if they are inept or just keeping a seat warm, no matter what their grade or title. Simple as that. But from what I saw that just doesn't happen, and the whole company suffers greatly on a number of levels as a result.

  4. I think it's fairly universal that when job cuts happen, they are never at the level where there's actual authority. Those folks have an amazing ability to hold their jobs, or get moved into other roles by their uppers.

    It's the grunts followed by the individual team leaders that tend to get hit the hardest, in other words, the folks that were following the orders of the people who then decided to let them go. After all, it couldn't have been their fault, now could it?

    Their ideas were brilliant, they simply weren't executed as well as they should have been.

    When it is their time to go, they aren't walked off or given a special folder, they are allowed to retire with a very nicely fattened pension plan and golden parachute to cushion their landing.

    Yeah, I'm bitter.

  5. Unstable IsotopeJune 9, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    After the last layoff, we lost scientists but gained managers. I've never actually seen a manager lose their job.

  6. @unstable isotope

    I've seen this trend as well...

    Did they hire more managers to manage the executive consultants who plug the people data in excel to plop out a perfectly diverse set of people to layoff? Oh, and then some more managers to calculate the risk involved if one of the employees decides to sue for discrimination? Then another manager to market the company's brand image internally to make sure those left did more with less? And a few to outsource more work so more layoffs could occur in a few months? With each manager making 6 figures, you think they could have kept more of the scientists who make 40-80K.

  7. Unstable IsotopeJune 10, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    There's less people, so they need to manage harder.

    They justify by saying things weren't going so well because this manager had too much to do, so they need a separate one to do part of that job.

  8. I think that what everyone needs to realize is that despite the rigid heirarchy of chemistry and the habit that Ph.Ds have of bringing up
    Bartok and Mozart and winetasting and mentioning that their fellow Ph.D is the outstanding protege of the brilliant Dr. So-and-So and couldn't possibly be wrong etc., that management at pharm companies is no different than that at McDonald's.

  9. Bartok and Mozart? It's more likely to be which YouTube video of someone being kicked in the crotch is more funny.

  10. Obviously you have never worked for Merck.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20