Top 10 pharma companies by employees - 2014

It is probably no surprise that the 10 largest Big Pharma companies came into 2014 with far fewer employees than they had the previous year. After all, revenues have been off at those companies as some of their biggest products have fallen off the patent cliff. Thousands of jobs were lost as companies laid employees off and sold units to try to regain their balance.

2012 was the most severe of the patent cliff years in the decade, so it is logical that the numbers at the end of 2013, when they were last tallied up, would be significantly less than the year before. And the number? The 10 largest companies had 29,720 fewer employees at the end of last year than the previous year, a decline of about 3%. But given that revenues for those 10 were off 3.6% collectively, by some measures the downsizing was not enough. That means that revenues per employee were also lower, $493,861, based on the 2013 employment and revenue numbers, compared with $495,895 the year before.

Of course, not all companies shrank. Half of them--Novartis ($NVS), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Sanofi ($SNY), Roche ($RHHBY) and Bayer--recorded at least some minimal growth last year. The largest of the top 10 by employees, Novartis, grew employment by 6.24% last year, adding about 8,000 employees, the largest increase in numbers and percent. But the Swiss drugmaker has been adjusting this year, with the sale of its vaccines business to GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and its animal health business to Ely Lilly ($LLY), and its combo with GSK of their consumer health operations.

In fact, while layoffs get the most notice, spinoffs result in the most jobs lost at a company. Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) shed nearly 25% of its workforce in 2013, 22,000 workers, mostly because it spun off its branded pharma unit into AbbVie ($ABBV). Pfizer ($PFE) was next, losing 13,800 employees, a 15% decline. Most of that tracks back to the spinoff of its animal health business into Zoetis.

It is always interesting to see who is growing and who is shrinking and why, but it can be a tricky measure. A company like Pfizer can whack a big unit and see its employment picture change dramatically. A year or two later, it can buy a company, say one like AstraZeneca with 51,500 employees, and the numbers can swell once again.

What follows are the ins and outs of the top 10 and their employment numbers. I was helped in compiling this year's report by a couple of talented interns, James Levin and Laura Shaposhnikova. Since they have returned to school, if you have any insights to share, please contact me. -- Eric Palmer (email | Twitter)

Top 10 Pharma Companies by Employees
Employees 2012
Employees 2013
% Change


127,724 135,696 +6.24

Johnson & Johnson

126,600 128,100 +1.18


111,974 112,128 +0.14


99,488 99,451 -0.04


82,089 85,080 +3.64


91,500 77,700 -15.08


83,000 76,000 -8.43


91,000 69,000 -24.18


55,300 56,000 +1.27


51,700 51,500 -0.39


Top 10 pharma companies by employees - 2014