Industry Area: Pfizer is a research-based global pharmaceutical company. The company discovers, develops, manufactures and markets medicines for humans and animals, as well as consumer products.
‘There were times not long ago that drug companies were merely the size of nations. Now, after a frenzied two-year period of pharmaceutical mega-mergers, they are behemoths, which outweigh entire continents. The combined worth of the world’s top five drug companies is twice the combined GNP of all sub-Saharan Africa and their influence on the rules of world trade is many times stronger because they can bring their wealth to bear directly on the levers of western power.’
Pfizer is the largest and richest pharmaceutical enterprise in the world. Fortune® named Pfizer as the fifth-best ‘wealth-creator’ in America. The company is a global leader in human pharmaceuticals, and also has a large array of consumer health care, confectionery, and animal health care products. In 2000, its revenues equalled $29,6 billion (£20,14bn), eight of Pfizer’s pharmaceutical products attained sales of at least $1 billion (£680,4 million) each . Pfizer’s main competitors are Merck, Glaxo SmithKline, Novartis, Brystol Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca.
In 2001, Pfizer has budgeted approximately $5 billion (£3,402 bn) for research and development -more than any other drug company in the world . However, the company is likely to spend even more money on marketing. Extensive marketing practices (e.g. huge TV advertising campaigns) have turned some drugs, like Claritin and Viagra, into household names. According to the Financial Times (26 April 2001), ‘Pfizer has powered its way up the global ranking list to its unassailable position thanks mainly to its marketing prowess.’
The company was incorporated as Charles Pfizer & Co in the US in 1942 but the original business dates back to a partnership founded in 1849. Until the turn of the century this partnership produced only citric acid but then began to expand into other chemicals and pharmaceutical products. A phase of rapid growth began with the production of penicillin in World War II (it was Pfizer penicillin that arrived with the Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy in 1944) and the development of the company’s most famous product, the antibiotic Terramycin in 1949. Based on this strength, Pfizer grew in the 40s and 50s through horizontal integration in the US as well as through internal development.
Under the methodical directive of John Powers, head of international operations and future president and chief executive officer, Pfizer’s foreign market expanded into 100 countries and accounted for $175 million (£199 million) in sales by 1965. It would be years before any competitor came close to commanding a similar share of the foreign market. Pfizer’s 1965 worldwide sales figures of $220 million (£149,7 million) indicated that the company might possibly be the largest pharmaceutical manufacturer in the US. By 1980 Pfizer was one of the two US companies among the top ten pharmaceutical companies in Europe, and the largest foreign health care and agricultural product manufacturer in Asia. Powers guided the company in a new direction with an emphasis on research and development.
By 1989, Pfizer operated in more than 140 countries. Pfizer entered the 90s facing controversy about heart valves produced by Shiley, a Pfizer subsidiary. In 1990, 38 fractures of implanted valves were reported (see also crime section). Pfizer became a household name in the late 90s with its development of the break-through male impotence drug Viagra, which became the world’s fastest-selling pharmaceutical product (until overtaken by another Pfizer brand).
It appears Viagra also had an effect on the company’s senior executives; in 1999 they began forcing their intentions on rival Warner-Lambert, finally harassing the smaller company into a shotgun marriage in the first ever-hostile take-over in the pharma sector. This take-over turned Pfizer into the largest and richest pharmaceutical enterprise in the world.
Pfizer has worked its way up the global ranking list by way of internal growth and development, acquisitions, the licensing of products from competitors (Pfizer generously borrowed research from its competitors and released variants of these drugs. While all companies participated in this process of ‘molecular manipulation’, whereby a slight variance is produced in a given molecule to develop greater potency and decreased side effects in a drug, Pfizer was particularly adept at developing these drugs and aggressively seizing a share of the market), research & development, and by way of comprehensive marketing efforts.
Pfizer’s successful marketing efforts impinged on other companies in the pharma sector. (Pfizer’s modern market campaigns broke tradition in the pharma industry. Pfizer’s Terramycin campaign turned the company –a relative newcomer to the industry?into the largest advertiser in the American Medical Association’s journal. Some companies did not appreciate Pfizer’s ‘hard sell’ tactics and attacked Pfizer. However, after Pfizer’s campaign proved to be highly effective, other companies took a similar lead) It is manifested in the "arms race" of escalating numbers of sales representatives, particularly in the US; the huge pre-launch marketing budgets when companies try to make as big a splash as possible; and aggressive TV advertising campaigns in which drugs are seemingly being treated and presented to the consumer audience as any other consumer product.
Pfizer recently announced a new mission: to become the world’s ‘most valued’ company. Pfizer CEO McKinnell declared that the new mission came about because the old mission set in the 1990s (to lead the pharmaceutical industry) had been achieved. He explains: ‘Becoming most values simply means that we emerge as the company recognised as the best by patients, customers, business partners, and the communities where we live and work. It’s a long term mission focused on making Pfizer’s success a winning proposition for everyone.’
References  The Guardian, 26/06/2001
 ‘Pfizer..not just bigger, but better’, message by Pfizer CEO Henry A. McKinnell (published at the Pfizer web site, philanthropy section)
 Pfizer’s first half year results, 2001 (can be found online at: www.pfizer.com/pfizerinc/investing/midyear/2001.pdf)
And also: The Directory of Multinationals, The World’s Top 500 Companies’, 5th edition, volume 2, Waterlow, Specialist Information Publishing Ltd 1998