Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan, in an email to dispirited employees, acknowledged the company “made a mistake” by striking a $1.2 million deal with Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. It was a mistake that has led to criticism of the Swiss drugmaker, “by a world that expects more from us.”
He told them that while the backlash left him frustrated and tired, he awoke, “Determined to fight for this company I deeply love. Determined to fight for all of you so you continue to feel proud, inspired and empowered to transform the health of the world every day.”
And he asked them to do the same. “What defines us now is how we respond to this difficult situation. I look to you to remain resilient and keep your focus on serving patients,” the message reads.
The missive came after two days of unfolding disclosures: Novartis reportedly entered a year-long, $100,000 a month, deal with Cohen’s consulting firm shortly after Trump's election president to gain insight about the new administration's approach to healthcare. But instead of following through, it said one meeting with Cohen was enough to determine he was of no value and the deal expired this January.
Within 24 hours of Novartis’ confirmation of the deal, unnamed Novartis officials leaked to the media that Narasimhan, who became CEO a day after the contract expired, knew nothing about the arrangement.
They insisted there was absolutely no link between the payments and Narasimhan’s inclusion with other global executives in a dinner with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They laid responsibility for the deal on former Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez.
But the company will have more to overcome than PR problems, now that Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has launched an investigation demanding details of the agreement, CNN reports. He noted that the $1.2 million fee it paid Cohen was four times as much as it paid any other lobbying firm last year.
Other companies are also seeing fallout from relationships with the Trump confidant. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in a memo to employees today acknowledged it was a mistake for the company to strike its $600,000 arrangement with Cohen's Essential Consultants, CNBC and others reported today.
That deal came as AT&T was seeking government approval of its $85 billion merger with Time Warner. AT&T pinned the mistake on its top Washington DC executive Bob Quinn, who Stephenson said was now retiring.
Questions remain about Novartis' intentions and Narasimhan acknowledged in his message to employees that “Yesterday was not a good day for Novartis.” But the new CEO assured them the controversy would pass and their work for patients and on Novartis’ medications will endure.
“Together we will respond by continuing our work to profoundly impact human health,” the CEO declared. “Please focus on that noble purpose in the difficult moment—bending the curve of life.”