A Pfizer executive explains why she sees a group of 90,000 people as the most important stakeholders in the drugmaker      


Sally Susman

  • Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer employs 90,000 people, a group Pfizer executive vice president of corporate affairs Sally Susman sees as the most important stakeholder in the company.
  • To support employees, Pfizer matches charitable donations and sends its employees out on fellowships around the globe.
  • When Puerto Rico was hit by hurricanes last fall, Pfizer gave a generator to each of its employees located on the island.
  • This article is part of Business Insider's ongoing series on Better Capitalism.

Sally Susman, the executive vice president of corporate affairs at Pfizer, wants employers to do better by their employees.

When it comes to major drugmakers like Pfizer, there are a lot of stakeholders to keep happy. There are shareholders who have invested in the company, there are the patients who use Pfizer's products, and there's the global community holding it accountable. And there's also the 90,000 people Pfizer employs around the world.

"The shareholders are important, sure, but so too are a lot of other groups and to me none more important than the 90,000 people that work for Pfizer," Susman told Business Insider.

In her role at Pfizer, Susman oversees communications and government relations and vice-chairs the Pfizer Foundation. The way she sees it, society has a big opportunity to tap into employees, because they want to find purpose in the work they're doing day-to-day. She said that's especially the case at a pharmaceutical industry because of the company-wide imperative to develop new medications. 

"Society has a big opportunity. The question is will they rise to the opportunity?" she said.

Through her work at the Pfizer Foundation, Susman has the chance to tap into that purpose, by matching employees' charitable donations through the foundation's funding. Last year, Pfizer contributed $34 million to 12,000 organizations through its matching program. 

Pfizer is also in its 15th year of sending employees out for six or 12-month stints to work as global health fellows. Through the program, Pfizer employees are matched up to non-governmental organizations where they can contribute the skills they've been using within Pfizer in a different setting. For example, a finance employee might help people in a village in Cambodia set up record-keeping for vaccines, or a manufacturing employee might help set up a supply shed in Ethiopia.

"They're just lit up," Susman said, of visiting some of the Pfizer fellows on the job. 

In moments of crisis as well, Pfizer looks to support its employees.  As part of the company's response to storms in Puerto Rico in 2017 and the resulting power outages, Pfizer provided each employee on the island with a power generator.

"We wanted to establish a feeling of family," Susman said.

The reputations of drugmakers have taken a hit over the past few years as the public and politicians called out the industry for high prescription drug prices. On Monday, President Donald Trump singled out Pfizer for raising the list prices on some of its prescriptions.

That doesn't deter Susman, who spent much of her career in other industries before joining Pfizer in 2007, from staying focused.

"We do our best to explain ourselves and to try to inform people as to what it is we're doing, but at the end of the day, we look ourselves in the mirror and we decide what it is we're actually going to do," Susman said. "I think it's one of the things that bonds us colleague to colleague in the company."

SEE ALSO: 'Waiting for its Uber moment': America's biggest companies are shaking up the healthcare system

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