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How Not to Be a CEO: Former Pfizer Chief Ousted Over Micro-Management and Copters

Jeff Kindler was pushed out of his job as CEO of Pfizer (PFE) in December because his "micro-micro-management" so alienated his executive team that some of them -- including current CEO Ian Read and general counsel Amy Schulman -- threatened to leave or retire rather than work for him, according to a masterful autopsy report in Fortune.

While Kindler (pictured at right) was literally micro-managing himself out of his job, the board ignored warning signs that his decision-making was unsound, such as his approval of $300,000 in helicopter expenses for the HR chief.

The magazine makes working for Kindler sound like a guide on how not to be a CEO: angry phonecalls at 5 a.m. followed by apologies at 11 p.m.; he'd bring women to tears and then send them flowers the next day; he'd burst with anger when questioned about corporate strategy at a retirement party. Decisions made one evening were undone the next day. On one occasion he even wrote a press release himself even though the company has dozens of inside and outside executives on its communications team, Fortune says.

The board was warned of Kindler's faults in two anonymous letters it received when it was considering Kindler and two other executives for the post in July 2006, Fortune reports, but it chose to ignore the warning and appoint Kindler anyway.

Then, in 2008, Pharmalot broke the news that Kindler's HR chief, Mary McLeod, was using a helicopter to commute to work in New York from her home in Delaware during a period where the company was laying off thousands. Kindler gave McLeod so much money in expenses that she threatened to become one of Pfizer's top five "named" executives in its publicly disclosed proxy filings. She received:

... $1 million in payments to McLeod, including those relating to her various houses, the helicopter use, and a large bonus to buy her out of a consulting partnership. Then there was McLeod's salary and regular bonus of $900,000 and restricted stock and options.
Kindler hired McLeod even though she had been fired from her previous job at Charles Schwab over what Fortune described as "character" and "integrity" issues.

In March, I suggested that Kindler's exit three months earlier was so sudden that it appeared as if "Read's sudden, friction-free assumption of the corner office at Pfizer and the consequent break-up plan were being worked on prior to Kindler's departure." That turns out to be true: When word reached the board that former pharma division head Read (pictured below right) and general counsel Schulman regarded working for Kindler as so awful that they might either retire or get a new jobs, the board began its own inquiry. Kindler was summoned, dramatically, to the airport in Fort Myers, Fla., on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010, to face a Spanish Inquisition of three board members:

Had he routinely berated subordinates? Did he really bring senior executives to tears? And how did he respond to charges that his leadership style, a sort of micro-micro-management, had paralyzed Pfizer?
He resigned the next day. The Machiavelli who engineered his demise? Former CEO William Steere, who didn't leave the company when he stepped down in 2001. Instead, he got a consulting contract, an office and secretary at Pfizer HQ, and kept his seat on the board, from where he ran what amounted to a shadow government within Pfizer, alternately tapping and undoing his successors.
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