• 06.08.10

Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler on Our Prison-like Health System, and Innovation Against All Odds

Today at the World Innovation Forum, Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler spoke openly about what it takes to be innovative, even in times of great uncertainty.

To promote innovation, Kindler stresses that “you have to have a [company] culture that accepts failure.” While this may sound like cliche, Michael Jordan-like advice, the Pfizer chief points out that his company serves as an inspirational example of pushing this concept to the limit.


As Kindler explained, “the vast majority of experiments to find new medicines fail.” What does this mean? According to Kindler, just 1 in every 10,000 new compounds ultimately reaches a patient. These experiments take years, and cost on average close to $1 billion each. The odds of putting a man in space (or trying to “close an oil well,” as he jokes) are higher than finding success with new mediciations, yet Kindler says his company is committed to innovation.

Regarding health care, Kindler offered a novel perspective on what our current system looks like. “Think about your experience–who actually wants to be a patient?” Kindler asked the audience. The first thing that happens at a hospital, he says, is that a complete stranger will ask you every question about your personal life, and likely, you will have to provide this same information to 3 or 4 successive strangers.

“Then, they take all that belongs from you, including your clothes,” said Kindler, who went on to explain to a laughing audience that the patient becomes “imprisoned” in a tiny room, entirely naked, and is given inedible food. “If you’re lucky enough, [the hospital] will discharge you.”

Kindler sees the hospital experience entirely in the same light as incarceration. “We’re not going to put up with this,” he concluded.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.