Friday, October 12, 2012

AbbVie CEO and credential issues

I have been remiss in posting recently, so I missed posting about this news about the Abbott pharma spin-off, AbbVie and its new CEO's resume troubles last month. But yesterday's comments about fibbing on one's résumé reminded me. From Crain's Chicago Business last month:
Abbott Laboratories misstated the education credentials of Richard Gonzalez, the executive tapped to head its pharmaceutical spinoff, in at least nine regulatory filings between 2002 and 2007, Crain's has found. 
Mr. Gonzalez did not receive a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from the University of Houston, nor a master's degree in biochemistry from the University of Miami, contrary to claims in Abbott's filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission when the longtime company executive was a director. He retired from Abbott as president and chief operating officer in 2007 but returned two years later. 
In October, Mr. Gonzalez was named CEO of AbbVie, which is projected to have $18 billion in annual sales after it is spun off later this year. Without a college degree, he seemingly would be a rarity among CEOs of major corporations.
What to say about this? Abbott claims that it was an error by administrative staff that allowed the error/mistake/lie (?) to become public record. It's beyond the scope of this blog to determine whether the error was intentional or not (I am sure someone has been desperately searching for copies of Mr. Gonzalez's resume from the early 1980s.)

Part of me thinks that this is not a huge deal. Mr. Gonzalez is from a time where it was not uncommon for people to join companies with simply a high school degree and work their way up to the top. (And there's an argument to be made -- what should we do with our educational system that this could be the case in the future? A debate for another time, and probably another blog.) Surely, his position as CEO is based on his performance as a manager and administrator.

But, of course, this can be seen as the very best fruits of credential fabulism. You fib a little to get into the door, and then you work your way to the top on your own merits!

Readers, can you split this baby?

14 comments:

  1. Why do you concentrate your attention on this little harmless lie. Let's instead talk about the value Mr. Gonzales brings to organization. The tasks ahead of AbbVie are enormous and it is my opinion that the best way to tackle them is to bring about next generation of scientific talent to reflect our nation’s diverse society. As you know, we at ACS have always been on the forefront of this endeavor. For example, our ACS Scholars Program, launched in 1995, works to increase the number of under-represented minorities in the chemical sciences and to promote inclusion in the chemical enterprise and so far it has been nothing but a startling success. Please visit our web page to learn more about this and other ACS diversity intiatives.

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  2. Harmless? That's absurd. What about the people out there that actually earned their credentials? Should I just lie when I apply for a job? If it's found he misled people on his original application there needs to be consequences. I fail to see what your shameless plug for a diversity program has to do with the issue at hand. Or really I think I see it and find what you seem to be implying exceptionally distasteful.

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  3. I'll second Anon@8:49's repudiation of the first comment.

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    1. There are two ways you can repudiate it, first - as a spokesperson for AbbVie, second - by being in denial.

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    2. Being in denial about what precisely? Does the 'diversity' Mr Gonzales brings to the company outweigh lying about his credentials?

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  4. I'm sure Abb Vie is far less lenient on lower level personnel who have been found to have fabricated items on their resumes.

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  5. I have not seen enough info to conclude Gonzales himself lied directly on CV, applications or other biographical info however it seems highly strange to me that as a president and COO he would not have been a final reviewer and even possibly a signatory to attest truthfulness on SEC filings and therefore would have not had at least a chance to discover and thus correct the errors.

    Having worked at Abbott many years ago I can affirm policies that as Anon 10:14 suggests would not be very lenient to such infractions. At the same time would offer I observed within Abbott culture there were many execs and managers who played fast & loose with facts as means to get ahead at expense of others (example is check out papers and patents where many probably include 1-2 individuals in higher level positions that may have only been in the building or departments of those who did the work) plus a few highly skilled liars (not just in Marketing which dominated the Abbott mindset). Again lack of specific info on Gonzales however would not be much a surprise to me if integrity lapses are not part of a story in ability to survive and rise at Abbott. It may be stereotypical but just like normal politicians often many of those who rise to positions of power do so either ny not having integrity to begin with or somehow lose it on the way.

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  6. There are more than one way to get an education and on-the job training is a perfectly acceptable way to get educated in my opinion. I think it is silly that just because some of us (including me) got to go to college and "earn" a degree that we are some how more entitled to a job than someone who has years of experience working in the field. How ridiculous we have all become. A degree does not prepare you to work in any industry more than apprenticeship would. We need to get away from this school of thought because college is really becoming expensive. If the private sector is willing to take on a certain number of apprentices and train them in the areas that would benefit the company most they will have employees trained and specifically tailored to the needs of the company and probably more loyal committed employees as a side effect. It really is a simple concept. I am earning my Ph.D. because I love academics and love research not because I want a good job after I graduate. I look at this as a bi-product; however, anyone who wants to learn something can. I am no different than most people in this respect and I am not better because I have a degree. Lying is the only problem I see with the story, but so far there is no proof that the CEO lied just the company he formerly worked for. We need to think outside the box more and not be so judgmental of people who get there education outside of college.

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  7. Elizabeth I don't disagree that degrees, particularly PhDs and especially those obtained from "Big Names", are often overvalued relative to relevant experience for supporting career growth and ability to make significant contributions. Further would suggest current academic focus and attitudes are disconnected from majority of Industrial positions, largely with blame shared both sides for lack to better alignment. Apprenticeships and internships are a good idea but do/would they impact more than a small percentage of fresh recruits while still leaving the majority in the dark about the differences required. You seem to point out flaws at industry yet although there has been cross fertilization efforts through recent university "drug discovery" programs bringing on a few appropriately experienced people I still believe the sentiment you expressed that discounts alternate means to educate people is more deeply embedded in academia (hey they are the ones issuing the degrees after all). Admittedly it does remain a more difficult path to climb at most companies but there are plenty of examples that prove degrees are not only route to advancement.

    That said another puzzle I find with Gonzales story is it would seem Abbott, being highly PR savvy, would have activity "promoted" his success without formal degrees by jumping to put a positive spin on this (Horatio Alger story).

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  8. I think the problem is twofold (assuming he lied and not just Abbott - it's possible they could have to make their managerial choice seem more acceptable to stockholders and potential buyers).

    First, if he had been nearly anyone else at Abbott, he would have been fired. Derek Lowe has a post about a person who lied on his resume - he had a Ph.D. but needed a job and so applied as an associate. When he revealed that he had a Ph.D., they fired him. While he received help in finding a new job, the story went, they (the company, via HR) had no choice but to fire him. Given that he had better qualifications than they actually asked for, it's really hard to accept that someone who is missing the qualifications they asked for would be able to walk away scot-free.

    As a side note, this infuriates me about how the economy works. We argue that any government perturbation of the economy is choosing winners and losers, and that the outcomes determined by the market are necessarily the correct ones. However, it seems that when businesses fail, only the people at the bottom (who in many cases had little to do with the failure) pay for the failure, while those who helped to engineer it (or at least were unable to hinder it) walk away wealthier. Since their higher pay is justified by their higher skill and the risks involved with a big company, it seems inconsistent to reward them well whether they succeed or fail when people paid far less assume the risks. In general, the rules that are claimed to govern the success and failure of individuals at the bottom of the ladder do not apply to those at the top. This seems like a particularly egregious example.

    Second, if the environment he was hired into took an apprentice/master pathway rather than one based on credentials, why fake the credentials? At some point, his actions and results would have indicated his abilities (degrees and credentials are supposed to give businesses a reliable estimate of what you could do, but what you actually do - your job performance - is what is supposed to decide your actual advancement) and the credentials would not matter much. If they don't matter, and lying about them is likely to be more costly (if you're caught), why bother?

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  9. I posted this before, but was late to the thread...

    I always suspected credentialism is a gentleman's agreement between the suburban dads of America to keep each others' kids in the standard of living to which they've become accustomed. Science is a special case, but there's absolutely no reason a high-school graduate couldn't do the kind of cubicle-farm job they hire communications majors to do.

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    1. That specific relatively high-status groups will attempt to keep their progeny at that same status, at the cost of opportunity to others is no surprise.

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  10. Considering the layoffs yesterday at Abbott, I think it's shit that people who worked for their credentials got the boot into the cold whereas Gonzales gets to live high on the hog.

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