Still Waiting On Witty


GlaxoSmithKline is one of the handful of drug companies on the front lines of the fight against the flu.

In fact, it is the only company that has products on both sides. GSK makes a vaccine and an antiviral. In the third quarter, GSK today reported that it sold nearly $300 million worth of the inhalable flu-fighter Relenza. That’s a more than 10-fold increase from a year ago.

And CEO Andrew Witty reportedly forecast around $1.6 billion worth of flu shot sales in the fourth quarter.

With all of the stories on shortages as well as the rumors and misinformation swirling about regarding vaccines, the flu and the medications to treat it, you’d think Witty would want to get out in front of it all. Wrong.

Witty has been running one of the world’s biggest drug companies for nearly a year-and-a-half now and he has yet to come on CNBC. In his early days, I was told he didn’t like doing TV, but to be patient. I was willing to give him a grace period. But then, I saw that he started doing TV “interviews” on GSK’s Web site. I’m almost certain it’s all softball stuff and that everything is pretty canned, coached and nearly scripted.

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Last week, Dr. Daniel Vasella of Novartis gave us an interview devoted almost exclusively to the vaccine situation. And this Friday morning I’ll be talking to the CEO of the world’s biggest vaccine maker, Sanofi-Aventis’ Chris Viehbacher . You can bet he will face some tough questions. In what could be a personal subplot to their starkly different media strategies, Viehbacher left GSK after his former colleague Witty beat him out for the top job. Viehbacher has been on CNBC several times. And Witty’s predecessor JP Garnier was a CNBC regular.

In fairness, Witty’s not alone. Jim Cornelius has been in charge of Bristol-Myers Squibb for a few years and has yet to do a TV interview. He does a quarterly telephone conference call with reporters, but I boycott it because it does me absolutely no good as a TV reporter. I work in a visual medium. This isn’t about me being petulant. Sure, I want the get. If I didn’t have that competitive drive, I should be doing something else for a living. I just happen to think that the leaders of publicly-traded companies should be accessible and accountable and be expected to regularly answer questions from reporters in all mediums. That’s one of the reasons they’re paid the big bucks.

Mr. Witty it’s way past time. Let’s do this…now!

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