In-House Counsel

Fortune Details How Star General Counsel Jeff Kindler Met His Downfall as Pfizer CEO

Trained as a trial lawyer, Jeffrey Bruce Kindler did so well as Pfizer Inc.’s general counsel that the company made him its CEO in 2006.

But from there his career trajectory took a nosedive. A lengthy Fortune magazine article for the first time details what it describes as his downfall.

A star Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan before becoming a litigator at Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly, Kindler followed a soaring career flight that took him to General Electric Co. and put him in the general counsel’s chair at McDonald’s Corp. before he landed at Pfizer as its general counsel in 2002.

His time at the pharmaceutical company resulted in some noteworthy successes. Smart, outgoing and energetic, he did what had to be done, for instance, to bring the company’s costs under control as it struggled to compete with the makers of cheaper generic drugs that were taking over the market, and presided over what the article calls brutal layoffs.

However, his confrontational trial-lawyer style and interrogational questioning rubbed some the wrong way, as did what critics called his micromanagement, focus on seemingly trivial details and reluctance to rely on the expertise of seasoned subordinates who were veterans of the pharmaceutical industry. Meanwhile, despite all his abilities and education, Kindler “remained palpably insecure, acutely sensitive to anything or anyone he feared might undermine his standing,” the article says, and relied, some believed, too much on the wrong company executive.

It also appears that a political battle within the company took its toll. On Dec. 4, 2010, several stony-faced board members invited Kindler to a meeting that resulted in his resignation.

The parting of the ways between Kindler and Pfizer, once it occurred, was amicable: In a written statement, Kindler calls Pfizer a great company at which he was privileged to work for nearly a decade, and praises the company’s current CEO, Ian Read, for what he and “our team” accomplished. A Pfizer statement provided to Fortune thanks Kindler for his many years of service during a “tumultuous time” in the industry and wishes him well in his future endeavors.

For more details about Kindler’s time at Pfizer, read the full Fortune article.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “CEO, Esq.”

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