Merck's ivory tower is no more, CEO says

Deciphering big-name CEO interviews is often a read-between-the-lines exercise. Fortune's Q&A with Merck chief Richard Clark (photo) is no exception. But if you can look past the careful corporate-speak, you'll find some interesting stuff. For example: Several times, Clark mentions taking an "external view." In the past, he says, Merck was too wrapped up in itself--its own science, its own opinions of its operations.

"You can become too arrogant at times if you don't step back and reflect," he muses. In other words, too enamored of your own research to comb the biotech market looking for better prospects. Too sure of your brand image to recognize when a drug safety problem--namely Vioxx--severely taxes public opinion. That's different now, Clark says. "We're much more externally focused than we ever have been," he says.

Meanwhile, Clark makes the expected comments--he talks up the Schering-Plough merger, he supports healthcare reform, he expresses hope for IP protections around the world, he calls for a better-funded and stronger FDA, he says the National Institutes of Health needs to be "resourced correctly," i.e., needs more money. But he also says he thinks healthcare reform won't actually be a financial positive for pharma, because of discounts and rebates. And he puts on his social-critic hat, saying the U.S. needs "better science in our schools." Policymakers, are you listening?

- read the Q&A in Fortune