A CEO Q&A with Albert Bourla, Chairman & CEO, Pfizer Inc.
What is one of the most important decisions you have made for Pfizer this year?
Pfizer’s purpose — Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives — is being put to the test in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which represents an unparalleled moment in the history of modern science.
Safe and effective vaccines are pivotal to defeating this pandemic and helping to protect against the threat of infection. We also know that no one company, vaccine or treatment alone will be enough to defeat this virus. That’s why in March, we announced Pfizer’s Five-Point Plan that called for unprecedented collaboration across the biotechnology ecosystem to help scientists and companies bring forward potential therapies and vaccines for COVID-19 and prepare the industry to respond more effectively to future health crises.
I am extremely proud of how Pfizer colleagues are applying our decades of scientific expertise in pioneering vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing, along with our partners, BioNTech, to respond to this global health crisis. We are directing great resources to this fight and to help bring an end to this pandemic. This is a leadership moment for the industry, and when we all look back on this moment, I want to be able to say that my colleagues and I gave everything we have in this battle — and that’s exactly what we’re doing each and every day.
What is one stakeholder group you are paying particular attention to in both the short and long term?
We engage with numerous stakeholder groups, but as one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world, one stakeholder group that we believe is critical to our success is patients.
We think it is a misconception that what is good for patients and what is good for shareholders are fundamentally at odds. Helping as many patients as possible — with breakthrough medicines that improve their standards of care and treatment outcomes, as well as vaccines that help protect people from disease — is inextricably linked to our future revenue growth and potential value creation for our shareholders.
Pfizer’s purpose keeps our focus squarely on patients. One of the ways we track our progress against this purpose is by reporting on the number of patients we impact around the world. In 2019, for example, we reached more than a half billion people with our medicines and vaccines, and in the first half of 2020 we were slightly ahead of that pace, despite the significant decrease in in-person patient-physician engagement due to COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders in many parts of the world.
What is one new initiative or commitment Pfizer has launched during the past year that you are particularly proud of?
One of Pfizer’s four core values is equity. We believe that every person deserves to be seen, heard and cared for. This happens when we are inclusive, act with integrity and reduce health care disparities.
Recent events — including the killings of George Floyd and several other African American men and women, as well as the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on Black, Hispanic and underserved communities — have highlighted that Pfizer’s commitment to equity must not only be focused within the company. It must also extend beyond the culture and environment we create inside the company to include speaking out publicly against discrimination of all kinds and helping drive positive and necessary change in our world.
To that end, we have announced a series of actions to foster a more inclusive environment within our company and to help drive important and necessary change in our world. Let me share two examples.
· We have revised our 2025 Opportunity Parity goal for U.S. minorities. We now plan to achieve parity at the vice president and above level for U.S. minorities by increasing our minority representation from 19% to 32% by 2025.
· Our Government Relations colleagues have always carefully considered our core values when determining who to support through the Pfizer PAC, and we recently revised our PAC bylaws to ensure that PAC recipients consistently demonstrate behaviors that align with our values.
What are recent actions that you are most proud of championing in your role as CEO?
Let me share two — both of which further demonstrate our commitment to equity.
First, we believe we have an opportunity to reduce healthcare disparities in underrepresented populations through our clinical trials. So, we have set an expectation that clinical trial recruitment demographics match those of the countries where the trials are taking place. With regard to COVID-19, we believe that any potential vaccine we develop, assuming clinical success and regulatory approval, should be accessible to patients regardless of race or ethnicity. Given that the coronavirus has had a disproportionately negative impact on Blacks, Hispanics and other diverse communities, we are committed to making our COVID-19 trial accessible to a diverse group of participants. We designed our study to meet the needs of potential study volunteers from diverse backgrounds, and we are working with individual sites to better understand their efforts and to help to address local needs and mitigate any barriers unique to the underrepresented communities in their area.
Second, this summer we modified our Summer Student Worker program by setting a goal to have approximately 50% of the students hired at participating U.S. facilities come from disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds. We did this because we recognize that for such students the chance work and learn alongside Pfizer colleagues could truly be life-changing. The intent was not to grow enrollment, but rather to invigorate the program with new and unique perspectives that create value for both managers and students alike. I am thrilled to say that our efforts were a success, with 67% of the interns who self-reported coming from disadvantaged or underrepresented populations.
Where have you drawn inspiration from during this challenging time?
I’ve drawn great inspiration from the courage, dedication and resiliency of my fellow Pfizer colleagues. I’m inspired by our R&D and Pfizer Global Supply colleagues who continue to go to our laboratories and manufacturing sites to ensure we are able to discover, develop and produce breakthrough medicines and vaccines. I’m inspired by those colleagues who haven’t missed a beat while transitioning to working almost exclusively from home. And I am inspired by our colleagues who are doctors and nurses who have opted to go into the field to help battle COVID-19 on the front lines.
Let me share a story that defines the Pfizer colleague. Back in March, the USNS Comfort, a massive Naval hospital ship, was summoned to the New York City harbor to help alleviate the surge in patients being admitted to city hospitals because of the pandemic. The Comfort’s original mission was to treat non-COVID-19 patients, but due to the overwhelming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the city, the ship had to pivot quickly to take on COVID-19 patients from the overflowing emergency rooms and ICUs. On April 8, our Hospital Business Unit’s Sterile Injectables team received an after-hours emergency order from the Comfort as it had just received more than two dozen ICU patients from a Brooklyn hospital and was not stocked with the needed medicines to treat these patients. A cross-functional team worked through the night to move quickly to process and deliver the emergency shipments to the ship within 24 hours of intake.
I’ve heard countless stories like this one over the past five months, and each has inspired me to be an even better leader for our company and the patients who rely on our innovations.