Correspondence | Published:

Drug giants hamstrung by timid middle management

Naturevolume 441page282 (2006) | Download Citation



Your Business story “Too little, too late” (Nature 440, 603; 2006) discusses a merger between Bayer and Schering, implying that the move is needed to make them large enough to succeed. My experience, during 50 years' research in big pharma, is the opposite. Large companies are always inefficient because their command structure makes them so. Any organization with many layers, where power flows from the top down, works against innovation — look at the widely reported depletion of big-budget companies' pipelines (see Nature 439, 886–887; 2006).

The reason is that people in the middle layers, who neither control events nor engage in discovery, are too afraid to respond favourably to genuinely new ideas. If they encourage one and then it flops, as most innovations do, they are marked for demotion or dismissal. But if they kill novel programmes, nobody will ever know that a great thing died before it was born, and they are safe. The top layers cannot evaluate research themselves, because so much information is generated at the bench that they are forced to delegate most up-or-down decisions to middle management. Nowadays most of the innovation takes place in small outfits, because it is not crushed there.

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    • Raymond A. Firestone


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