Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Martin Mackay -- when does your record become your record?

Martin Mackay: I've always liked his grin. (Credit: 1kpharm)
With the news that AstraZeneca has removed its CEO this morning, I'm reminded of another AZ honcho, president of R&D Martin Mackay. I note that I pseudo-worked for the Blue Pill Factory's R&D division while he was the president of Global R&D; he seemed like a nice fellow in his public appearances, but I don't really know his successes or failures. During his tenure as president, there were at least 2 rounds of layoffs.

He's since moved to AstraZeneca, where he appears to be making a number of interesting moves, including changing many research heads and forming a new virtual neuroscience collaborations group, which seems to have the unfortunate name of iMed.* There have been, of course, rounds of layoffs in the R&D divisions.

Layoffs aren't always their fault, for sure -- shareholders, CEOs, the board probably has some role in demanding 'reductions in headcount.' Also, the discoveries and successes of the scientists in their organizations aren't necessarily theirs, either. But through their "go/no-go" decisions and their personnel moves, they do have some impact on their organizations. 

My question about Dr. Mackay and other heads of large pharma R&D: at what point are they responsible for the scientific success of their respective companies? In the American football world, "true" coaching success seems to be described as: winning games and championships with players that you have selected, as opposed to winning with players that have been selected by previous coaching staffs (think Jon Gruden's early success versus his later years.) The common rule of thumb for judging the success of college-level coaches is the results of their 3rd or 4th full season. Is 3 years enough for heads of R&D? 

So when do we get to judge Dr. Mackay's tenure at either Pfizer or Astra-Zeneca? And what constitutes a failure to succeed, such that the reins of large research organizations get taken away from them? 

*This is a continuation of common thought that anything having to do with Apple is the height of technology and innovation. I'm less than convinced with this marketing decision. 


  1. "My question about Dr. Mackay and other heads of large pharma R&D: at what point are they responsible for the scientific success of their respective companies?"
    They are never responsible for the success, that is delegated to others in the form of objectives and as long as the head of R&D achieves his objectives then he is fine and gets his bonus, the others get the chop.

    1. It would seem to me just that, to the extent that executives are credited and rewarded more than other for success, they must bear the responsibilities of failures. Otherwise there is a failure of logic.

  2. How quickly do managers at biotechs/pharmas judge the success of bench level scientists? I think everyone knows dunderhead bench scientists who can continue doing poor work for years and years.

    I, vaguely, recall some Euro-based big pharm that was recently going on about doing research in small, competitive, groups, and that resources where re-allocated according to progress after 12 to 24 months.

  3. I heard someone the other day apply the apt analogy that being the manager of sports team is a lot like playing poker. Making the right plays or choices can still end in a loss just as much as the making the wrong plays can mean big wins. It can take many hands to distinguish a marginal poker player from a persistently successful pro.


  4. Any impact he makes won't be visible until the changes of his predecessor's have played out. In your football analogy that takes around 3 years because that's how long it takes for a player to join, play, and leave the team.

    For a pharma perspective it'd probably be about projects. I'd think it would take at least half the lifespan of a project, and at most twice the lifespan for all of the successes and failures to be "his". So, 5-20 years.

    Given that no exec ever seems to last even 5 years, I don't think it's possible to do any real analysis.

  5. You are trying to rationalize behavior, in the business world, no less, from your viewpoint and experience as a scientist.


    As a hired gun, slash CEO slash, why would I care about the company? Or you, PhD looser??
    I have been given the chance of a lifetime to rack in as many dollars as I can; and probably I only have 3-5 years to do it!!!

    That's my chance. I win, you loose. And I don't care!!!
    Dog eats dog.

    Good Night. Sleep well and sweet dreams.

  6. :-$ <-- bitter chemist face

  7. I definitely (mis)read that last sentence as "...such that the reigns of large research organizations...

    The King is Dead. Long live the King!

  8. If only these CEOs, incompetent presidents of R&D, and companies didn't care about money like this guy, maybe then they could actually create a good product:


    (replace xx by tt)

  9. It looks like his record caught up with him today!


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