– Jeff Kindler is the chairman and CEO of Pfizer. He has agreed to reply to readers’ responses about this opinion piece. The views expressed are his own. —
While it’s encouraging that slightly more people say they trust business and government today than a year ago, surveys show more than 70 percent of Americans and Europeans fear companies and governments will return to business as usual once the recession ends. It’s easy to see why.
In just the past year, a UK accounting scandal forced out the Speaker of the House of Commons, for the first time since 1695. The Governor of Illinois was thrown out of office for influence peddling, and a Congressman was convicted of accepting bribes and storing the cash in his freezer.
Businesses haven’t done any better, from taking reckless risks with other people’s money, to Ponzi schemes, to insider trading. Many banks and automakers now owe their existence to taxpayers, who bailed them out then paid them bonuses. My own company paid a $1.8 billion fine after some of our sales people improperly promoted a medicine for uses the FDA hadn’t authorized.
Actions like these are leading people to demand more restrictions on business. People say banks should risk less, and pay their executives less. They want oil companies to drill less, and burn less. They want drug companies to charge less, but not do less R&D. Sometimes, this criticism is warranted. Sometimes, it’s not. But when people don’t trust you, they’ll find a way to force you to change.