For most of the 20th century ICI was Britain’s leading industrial company. It was formed in 1926 through the merger of four chemical companies – Brunner Mond, Nobel Explosives, United Alkali and British Dyestuffs. The company declared that it would champion “the responsible application of chemistry and related sciences” to business. The chemical markets of the world were shared, more co-operatively than competitively, between ICI and its rivals DuPont and IG Farben.
After the second world war the ICI board shrewdly perceived that the new frontier of chemistry was pharmaceuticals. In those days ICI was one of the few British manufacturing companies active in recruiting graduates, and the pharmaceutical division hired a team of able young scientists. Among them was James Black, a physiologist from the University of Glasgow. Despite the quality of its research chemists, ICI’s pharmaceutical division lost money for almost two decades. It is hard to imagine a listed company, or its shareholders, tolerating a similar financial performance today.
In the 1960s Black discovered beta-blockers, the first effective drug for treating high blood pressure. Other products followed, and the pharmaceutical became ICI’s fastest-growing source of profit. Black was feted (if not especially well paid) by the company. But his interest was in research, not management or marketing. Believing that the science underlying beta-blockers had other uses, he left ICI for the greater freedom offered by Smith Kline.
Black’s hopes were realised. His team found a drug, Tagamet, which relieved many people from the misery of stomach ulcers. This discovery prompted another British company, GlaxoNOTE: GLAXO NOT GSK, PACE TANSA, to focus research in the same area. The product of that research was Zantac, for a time the world’s best-selling drug. ICI’s visionary investment in pharmaceuticals did not just pay off for the company itself. It laid the foundations of what is today one of Britain’s most successful industries.
By the late 1980s fashions had changed. The purpose of business was now the promotion of shareholder value rather than the responsible application of science. ICI had shifted its emphasis over the years from its origins in dyestuffs and explosives to petrochemicals and fertilisers, and then to pharmaceuticals. But businesses that focused on exploiting specialist scientific knowledge were no longer in vogue. Sprawling conglomerates such as Hanson, with management skills that could supposedly bring efficiencies to any business, were the companies of the future.
In 1991 Hanson was thought to be preparing a hostile bid, and the threat galvanised ICI. Two years later the pharmaceutical business was spun off as Zeneca. An independent drug company, after all, could command a far higher stock market valuation than the cyclical chemical businesses that ICI retained. Zeneca subsequently merged with the Swedish company Astra (whose proton pump inhibitor had become the successor therapy to Zantac). The rump chemicals business of ICI began a 15-year journey to oblivion.
The pharmaceutical industry itself was changing. When business guru Jim Collins wrote Built to Last in 1995, he compared the continuing success of Merck – repeatedly named America’s most admired company in Fortune surveys – with the inferior financial performance of its competitor Pfizer. Collins contrasted the philosophy of George Merck (“We never forget that medicine is for the people?.?.?.?and if we have remembered that, [the profits] have never failed to appear”) with the words of his contemporary John McKeen at Pfizer: “So far as is humanly possible, we aim to get profit out of everything we do.”
But by the time Collins’ book appeared, Pfizer’s strategy of cutting costs, promoting its suite of existing drugs, and filling gaps in its pipeline of new drugs through acquisitions better fitted the changed times. Merck fell from grace. When Collins came to write How The Mighty Fall 15 years later, Merck was again among his featured businesses.
Business built to last is about people and products, not corporate activity and tax advantages. James Black almost certainly created more shareholder value than any financier or chief executive in the history of British business. That lesson should be relevant to how we view Pfizer’s proposed acquisition of AstraZeneca.
在20世纪大部分时间里，帝国化学工业(ICI)都是首屈一指的英国工业公司。这家企业1926年由卜内门(Brunner Mond)、诺贝尔企业(Nobel Explosives)、联合碱业公司(United Alkali)和英国染料公司(British Dyestuffs)四家化工公司合并而成。它宣称将在经营中力行“负责任地应用化学及相关科技”。ICI和其竞争对手杜邦(DuPont)以及法本公司(IG Farben)一起，合作大于竞争地瓜分了当时的全球化工市场。
二战后，ICI董事会精明地意识到化工产业的新前沿在于制药。在那段时期，ICI是为数不多的积极招募大学生的英国制造企业之一，其制药部门聘请了一批年轻有为的科学家。其中就有来自格拉斯哥大学(University of Glasgow)的生理学家詹姆斯?布莱克(James Black)。尽管拥有强大的研究队伍，ICI制药部门却亏损了近20年。很难想象今天会有哪家上市公司或它的股东，能忍受这样的财务表现。
制药工业本身也在发生改变。当商业大师吉姆?柯林斯(Jim Collins)在1995年写作《基业长青》(Built to Last)时，他将默克（Merck，在《财富》杂志(Fortune)的调查中多次被称为美国最令人钦佩的公司）的持续成功，与其竞争者辉瑞(Pfizer)糟糕的财务表现进行对比。柯林斯比较了乔治?默克(George Merck)的经营哲学（“我们应永远铭记，制药旨在救人……如果记住这一点，我们绝不会没有利润”），和同时代辉瑞的约翰?麦基恩(John McKeen)的言论：“在人力范围内，我们的目标是从所作的一切事情当中得到利润。”
但是等到柯林斯的书出版之际，辉瑞的种种策略被证明更适应变化的时代，包括削减开支，推销已有药物组合，通过收购填补新药开发缺口。默克却失去光环。当柯林斯15年后写作《巨人如何倒下》(How The Mighty Fall)时，默克再次成为他着力推崇的公司。