If Glaxo's CEO wants to be Mr. Clean, he needs to pick up a broom

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) says it's rolling out sales and marketing reforms around the world. Apparently, the changes come none too soon. The British drugmaker opened another bribery investigation, this time in Iraq, to check out allegations that it paid government-employed physicians to promote its products.

And Glaxo hasn't yet finished working through the scandalous Chinese bribery allegations that kicked off an industrywide corruption crackdown.

So, CEO Andrew Witty and his team sound a bit ... conflicted. On the one hand, Witty sounds the perfectly contrite corporate leader. He apologized for the marketing allegations that ended with a $3 billion Department of Justice settlements. He's promised good behavior and touted those worldwide sales reforms. But on the other, the company is digging into at least two sets of corruption accusations, and faces related repercussions at home and in the U.S. Two bribery probes in two different geographic divisions? That's a systemic problem.

When the Chinese bribery scandal hit, Glaxo's U.K. headquarters was quick to say that head-office executives didn't know about any malfeasance in its China subsidiary. That may be so. But if HQ didn't know, that means HQ was either turning a blind eye or failing to pay enough attention. Either way, that's not a good thing for a company trying to clean up its image.

If Witty really wants to reform GSK, then he and his top managers need to move beyond plausible deniability. They can't just launch new quota-free sales-rep compensation and promise to stop paying speaking fees to doctors in the U.S. and beyond. Painful follow-through has to happen.

We need to see Glaxo execs take out their brooms, and move into global operations to sweep out misbehavior. If they don't, whistleblowers and government investigators will. And that makes all those the sales-and-marketing changes look like little more than window-dressing. -- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)

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