Thursday, January 12, 2012

What's the pharma version of "going out with the troops?"

"Who stole all our HPLC acetonitrile? I'm finding that SOB."
Credit: The Best Defense
From Tom Ricks' blog, here's a picture of the current Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces going on a training mission with a line unit. His commenters note that this is quite the photo op, in that he's easily recognizable, which he would not be, if he were wearing all the gear (helmet, body armor, etc.) that he would be if he were just one of the troops. The guest blogger, Mr. Williams, makes an interesting note about an Admiral Olsen, the former head of USSOCOM (the command over the US military's various special operations units):
While unlike Gantz he did not join a SEAL platoon doing exercises on San Clemente Island, he did frequently showed up at Coronado to join in doing free weights, long distance runs, and more gruelingly, swim out to the Point Loma buoy and back with the teams. Even at age 59 it was hard to beat him in the water.
From the comments come a smattering of stories of general officers doing field work, including stories of David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal participating in foot patrols and raids in Iraq and Afghanistan. I enjoyed this little story about a Lieutenant General (3-star) Lynch:
LTG Rick Lynch, when he was commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, was known to spontaneously join PT formations. I remember turning around and seeing his face and asking my buddy, "Who's the old guy?" Whoops. His CSM (Ciotolo) wore buck sergeant rank on his PT gear and was a common sight during PT. 
LTG Lynch would also go "undercover" and pose as a regular civilian to see how post services were serving Soldiers and the community.
I'm hard pressed to think about a pharma executive doing similar things in their time leading scientists. I think it would be silly to see ol' Jeff Kindler or Fred Hassan attempting to run a column. At the same time, I would think it would be helpful for a Ph.D. chemist at the director level to take a portion of her week/month and run a scale-up reaction or two, use the LC/MS, the NMR and the ELN and run a column on the Biotage. I presume that it would give the senior manager a perspective of the expected productivity of a bench scientist, the bottlenecks in research and the ability to observe their scientists in action.

I'm probably full of it. Readers? 

12 comments:

  1. In these cases, the officers were participating in training exercises, not actual combat. I can't think of the chemlab equivalent of training exercise. Can you?

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  2. The Petraeus/McChrystal examples are combat-related. But you're right, research doesn't have "training missions."

    That said, there's plenty of places where a senior manager could get their hands a little dirty.

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  3. Sure, training exercise would be the scale-up of a common intermediate that has done previously, but needs to be remade. Thus, someone would just be following a recipe.

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  4. I don't have a pharma version but I have seen with my own eyes EJ Corey going with his group members to clean the horrible chemical storage cold-room that had 20+ years of accumulated gunk and sinister looking bottles of unknown dark liquids with completely eaten labels embedded in blocks of ice. (Everyone participating in the cleanup there ended up smelling like a cheap aftershave thanks to a spilled bottle of hydrocinnamaldehyde)

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  5. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.

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  6. CJ, you understand the difference between the generals and the kings, right?

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  7. If by that, you mean that pharma CEOs are kings, yes, I think.

    What do you mean?

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  8. My point is that ultimate objective of a general is victory, and victory is a unifying goal, whereas the ultimate objective of a monarch is preservation of his power and expansion of his domain. This requires absolute separation from the subjects. That both objectives imply certain level of disregard to casualties does not make them similar.

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    Replies
    1. Good point -- I shall not go against you when death is on the line.

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    2. So, no "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers"?

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  9. @CJ, @milkshake - I know at least one Director at a small pharma company that makes sure he has 1 free hour a day to work at his hood and interact with his chemists. He makes and purifies his own compounds.

    Also, I recall a (chaired, tenured) prof from grad school that, when faced with a student running out of time prior to defense date or conference presentation, would suit up, get into a hood, and help said student advance SM into intermediates. He also celebrated successful syntheses out at the bar afterwards...

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  10. At my last synthetic job the owner would volunteer to be 2nd man in the lab on weekends (for safety) if no one else would be in, and he always leapt at the chance to get dirty in the hood. All part of why we liked him so much.

    Current job (formulation/analytical) has the CEO into the lab to mix up some batches all the time too. But these were both <30 people, so all hands on deck kind of places.

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