Pfizer/Pharmacia and the Art of Firing People; Pfizer Moves to Block Rost’s Book (excerpt included)

Pfizer's attorney Ronald Green has asked U.S. District Court in New York to advise of relief and sanctions against Peter Rost for his book, "The Whistleblower---Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman."  As you may recall, Mr. Rost is suing Pfizer for wrongful termination. The book apparently sold out its first print run during its first week, according to publisher Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, N.Y. For more information, visit Haven't read it yet, but offer this excerpt (with permission of Soft Skull), a first-hand and well-written account of the "downsizings" after Pharmacia was acquired by Pfizer.  It could describe any downsizing, anywhere, in corporate America today, with all its sterile oxymorons ("compassion and comfort?") Would any of you Pfizerites, or any of you pharma-ites who've ever been 'downsized'  have any comments?  The Art of Firing People Chapter Three, excerpted from The Whistleblower “ Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman by Peter Rost, with permission of Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, N.Y. As the April 2003 Pfizer takeover date rapidly approached, some more Pharmacia employees received job offers from the new organization, many of whom said no thanks, but many didnt hear anything at all from Pfizer.  At the same time, we silently watched as wave after wave of Pfizer managers were promoted into new positions, and the level of cynicism at Pharmacia grew day by day. As the merger loomed, those of us with managerial responsibilities were told that we needed to learn how to properly fire our subordinates.  That was when the consultants specializing in career transition moved in. By now, we really felt like cattle on our way to the slaughter chute, certain that, after wed killed off our subordinates, wed be next. To learn the art of firing people, we were asked to participate in a large meeting at an offsite conference center.  From the outside, this looked like any regular business meeting.  People had to sign in and everyone got a name tag, lest unauthorized employees, or, worst of all, a journalist, try to get the inside scoop. A man and a woman from the outsourcing firm started by telling us how their services made them a productive part of the food chain.  Firing employees had been elevated to an art form, apparently.  Despite my mixed feelings, I couldnt help being fascinated by their presentation.  It was like listening to a law enforcement officer explain how to most effectively immobilize a prisoner. We were told that we needed to choose an appropriate setting for the termination meetings.  If we expected trouble, we could have an exit team waiting around the corner, invisible to the unsuspecting target. The exit team could, if needed, carry out a screaming and panicked employee who refused to leave, I suppose. After having welcomed the employee we were going to terminate, we were told to express interest in the persons comfort in the room.  I guess the firing manager was supposed to ask if it was too warm, too cold or just right.  Or perhaps make sure that the victim found his or her chair comfortable. It was important to note that small talk should be kept brief---i.e. two minutes.  The presenters---by now I was thinking of them as Terminators---strongly suggested not waiting too long before letting the axe fall. The second step was to set the stage.  Here, the manager should express his understanding of the acquisition.  To be honest, I didnt see how saying Pharmacia shareholders will make a lot of money on this transaction, but many of us will be out of a job, so lets be happy for our shareholders would go over too well. The third step was to actually do the deed.  For any trigger-happy supervisor who didnt get to play dictator at home, this was the moment when he took control of another human beings life.  He could announce the separation, another euphemism for firing perhaps intended to make people associate it with simply being apart like a vacation---a long vacation I could see necks crane as we got to this point in the meeting.  There were hundreds of managers in the room and you could hear a pin drop.  We all waited for the next set of instructions.  The man at the podium explained that it was imperative to plan and rehearse the statement that announces the separation. We should also present the decision as definite and final, and we might want to repeat what we had just said to our victim. Once that was done, we should present the reasons for termination in such a way that the separated employee clearly understood and remembered that he was being fired.  That would be for the really hard-headed ones who didnt listen, I guess¦ I heard the male Terminator at the podium say something about how important it was to show compassion. Crying together with the targeted employee, however, was not recommended. After having gone through some mandatory catch-phrases such as you should know that a generous separation kit has been created for all former Pharmacia employees losing their jobs due to the acquisition, we were shown the final setup.   The final setup was to listen and allow eye contact and to show that we were listening.  If we didnt feel compassionate, clearly we were supposed to pretend that we were.¦ At that point I thought the meeting was over but it wasnt.  Next we were going to learn how to handle the difficult employees---the ones who wouldnt walk, docilely, through the slaughter chute: The Very Angry Person¦ The Emotional Employee¦ The Out-of-Control Reaction¦ Finally, we were given a script to use when firing an employee.  It ended I know this is difficult news to bear.  If I can be of assistance to you in any way, please come to me.  Too bad they had just forbidden us to do the one thing that could really have assisted a terminated employee: give them a reference¦ In any case, sanctions appear to be unlikely, if we are to believe the official transcript of the exchange between the Judge and Mr. Green, which reads like parody. To cut to the chase on the high point of that exchange: Mr. Green:  We would like to make a motion for appropriate sanctions against Mr. Rost The Court:  You know, my practice unfortunately is that I don't prevent lawyers from making any motions that they feel are appropriate, so if you feel that's an appropriate motion, then you should make it.  I'm not going to opine one way or the other whether that's going to be a legitimate motion or a waste of my time, your time, or your money or their money.  So if you think that's the way you should spend your time, then do what you will..." We hope to get Pfizer's official comment on Rost's book, but would welcome your comments on this chapter, and the book in general, as well. -AMS
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