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Posted by on Sep 28, 2012 in Ethics, Pharma

CEO of Abbott Spin-off Doesn’t Have Claimed Educational Degrees

CEO of Abbott Spin-off Doesn’t Have Claimed Educational Degrees

Miles-White_Richard-Gonzalez_2011.jpgMeaning: Richard Gonzalez, longtime Abbott employee and prospective CEO of AbbVie (the Abbott drug spin-off), doesn’t have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, as he claimed for years. The story was broken by Crain’s Chicago Business and followed up by the Chicago Sun-Times. But it ain’t no big thing, cluelessly offers an Abbott spokesperson, who ascribes the gaffe to an administrative error. The “administrative error” or lie, depending on your viewpoint, was included in SEC filings from 2002 to 2007. Mr. Gonzalez’s Abbott bio (included among its “leaders”) now states that he “was a research biochemist at the University of Miami School of Medicine and attended the University of Houston, majoring in biochemistry.” So perhaps the highest executive of a new $18-billion company is a high school graduate.

HT: Pharmalot.

Image of perennial Abbott CEO Miles White (left) and prospective (and soon-to-be-ex) AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez (right) from Abbott’s 2011 shareholder report.

Clarification: The issue is not whether someone without a college degree can successfully lead a company (we know the answer to that question), but whether someone who has (seemingly) lied about academic degrees can (or should). To me, the answer is obvious. Certainly such a person can’t lead with any integrity.

10-03-12 update: Longtime Abbott CEO Miles White stands behind Gonzalez and claims that he and the company board knew of the CV error before selecting Gonzalez to lead AbbVie. White distributed a memo/letter to company employees earlier this week, which was posted by Pharmalot. An excerpt:

There was an error made when Rick’s Company biography was originally written many years ago. It incorrectly stated that he had earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Rick brought this error to the Company’s attention after his retirement and prior to returning to the company in 2009. We conducted an internal and external investigation of the matter and his biography was subsequently corrected. After full discussion the Board and I concluded he is the right person to lead AbbVie.

However, the memo (which implies that news stories on the subject have not been entirely factual) fails to state how the false degrees were originally incorporated into Gonzalez’s biography and why the errors went uncorrected for years (by Gonzalez especially), until Gonzalez retired. The memo also fails to mention how or why Gonzalez finally recognized the errors during the time of his retirement (from 2007 to 2009).

Despite Abbott’s claim of an “administrative error,” this explanation seems unlikely (and frankly insulting) given that Gonzalez would have provided the original information about his educational background to Abbott’s HR department.* Perhaps an administrator or a PR person might have innocently and incorrectly assumed that Gonzalez obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston, after he stated that he had attended the school and majored in biochemistry there. But the same assumption does not apply to claiming a master’s degree from the University of Miami. If Gonzalez told HR that he attended school there after the University of Houston, several big assumptions would have to be made by HR to (falsely) conclude 1) that Gonzalez attended graduate school, 2) that his concentration was biochemistry, and 3) that he obtained a master’s degree (as opposed to a PhD). The only reasonable and logical conclusion is that Gonzalez supplied these false details himself. This conclusion is also consistent with the fact that the errors were not corrected for years.

According to Crain’s, Gonzalez attended the University of Houston from the fall of 1972 to the fall of 1973. (It wasn’t confirmed whether Gonzalez majored in biochemistry; although it is unlikely that Gonzalez would have gotten very far in such a science-heavy major after about 3 semesters of college. As far as I can remember, I couldn’t enroll in biochemistry–as a
college junior, iirc–until I had taken 2 terms of organic chemistry, which
required the prerequisite of 2 terms of general chemistry.) Gonzalez attended the University of Miami for 1 semester, from January to May of 1974. It is unlikely that this course of study was at a graduate level, given that Gonzalez would have left the University of Houston as a college sophomore. The University of Miami would not or could not confirm Gonzalez’s employment as a research biochemist, because it only confirms the status of current employees. And Gonzalez is evidently not available to the press to confirm these details or add information that can be later confirmed (such as, what U Miami lab he worked in).

The fact that Miles White fails to see a problem with any of this and, moreover, backed and continues to back Gonzalez as CEO of AbbVie speaks volumes about the integrity and values (or lack thereof) among the highest executives at Abbott. I don’t know how any Abbott employee, who’s slogged through and successfully completed their own professional education (particularly in medicine and the sciences), can look at those guys with anything but contempt and disgust.

* Although the HR department should be severely scolded for never doing something as “HR basic” as checking on on Gonzalez’s credentials.

bmartin (1130 Posts)

A native East Tennessean, Barbara Martin is a formerly practicing, board-certified neurologist who received her BS (psychology, summa cum laude) and MD from Duke University before completing her postgraduate training (internship, residency, fellowship) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She has worked in academia, private practice, medical publishing, drug market research, and continuing medical education (CME). For the last 3 years, she has worked in a freelance capacity as a medical writer, analyst, and consultant. Follow Dr. Barbara Martin on and Twitter.