The Two Sides of Tobias?

Dec. 21, 2004
Former Eli Lilly CEO's 'Moose' is his Big Pharma ties.

Is former Eli Lilly CEO and chairman Randall Tobias a savior or a snake? Time will tell, but as the U.S.' first global AIDS coordinator, appointed in late June by President George W. Bush, Tobias will undoubtedly find himself under a microscope. Shortly after his appointment, various global groups battling AIDS and in need of affordable AIDS medications both praised and clucked at the appointment. "We applaud President Bush's ongoing commitment to the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS and his decision to fast track the appointment of a U.S. global AIDS coordinator to shepherd our role in this critical effort," said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates free AIDS treatment clinics in the United States, South Africa, Uganda and Honduras. "Given the enormity of the stakes in terms of human life and the difficult waters he'll have to navigate, we wish Mr. Tobias well in this new role. AIDS Healthcare Foundation is committed to working with Mr. Tobias and the administration." Meanwhile, The Global Aids Alliance saw the appointment with a more critical eye, doubting Tobias would be able to cut his ties to Big Pharma to aid the AIDS-eradication effort by increasing availability of generic AIDS medicine, which is vastly cheaper, according to the group, than brand-name versions. "This decision is another troubling sign that the president may not be prepared to fulfill his pledge to take emergency action on AIDS," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance. "This raises serious questions of conflict of interest and the priorities of the White House." The group criticized Bush in general, saying he has dragged his feet on an anti-AIDS support campaign promise and questioned whether Tobias was best for the job or was being rewarded for major financial contributions to the Republican Party. Tobias' is widely respected, however, for his management skills. He retired from Lilly in 1998. During his five-year tenure as chairman and CEO, the market value of the company went from $14 billion to more than $70 billion. In a recently published biography about his management philosophies, "Put The Moose On The Table" (2003, Indiana University Press) Tobias tells managers to deal with the most difficult problems first and treat subordinates with respect. Tobias' appointment must be approved by the Senate, and as global AIDS coordinator, he would report to Secretary of State Colin Powell. His job would be to oversee a $15 billion humanitarian effort to treat AIDS worldwide.

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