Fortune shows with this story how a broken culture leads to disasters like that.

Meanwhile, its managers descended into behavior that would do Shakespeare — or Machiavelli — proud. There was the ex-CEO who couldn’t relinquish his power and quietly maneuvered to undercut two successors he had helped install. Then there was the human resources chief who divided the staff rather than uniting it. Most of all, there was Kindler himself, a bright man with some fresh ideas for reforming Pfizer but a person who agonized over decisions even as he second-guessed everybody else’s actions. The story of Jeff Kindler’s tumultuous tenure at Pfizer is a saga of ambition, intrigue, backstabbing, and betrayal — all of it exacerbated by a board that allowed the problems to fester for years.

But the real juicy part of the story involves Kindler’s HR executive Mary McLeod. Fortune reports that almost everyone was against her but Kindler. Fortune finds out that McLeod had gotten fired from the same position at Charles Schwab back in 2000, and it gets her former CEO on the record reading from her termination letter:

After an internal investigation, Pottruck fired McLeod in 2004, he confirms. In an e-mail sent to McLeod the day of her termination, read aloud to Fortune, Pottruck wrote: “The issues are about the perceptions others have of you around character, integrity and divisiveness … There is a perception that you do not tell the truth.”

McLeod helped bring down Pottruck and she did the same with Kindler too. But she lived large in the meantime, with Pfizer paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a helicopter to shuttle her between Delaware and New York:

Apart from the terrible impression conveyed by an HR chief choppering to work in the midst of massive layoffs, someone soon realized that this arrangement posed another problem: McLeod’s emoluments were so lavish they might make her one of the company’s five most compensated employees, which would require Pfizer to disclose the details in its annual proxy statement. In early 2008 company governance chief Peggy Foran investigated the issue and tallied nearly $1 million in payments to McLeod, including those relating to her various houses, the helicopter use, and a large bonus to buy her out of a consulting partnership. Then there was McLeod’s salary and regular bonus of $900,000 and restricted stock and options.

Again, Pfizer was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to chopper its HR chief back and forth from Delaware to New York.

There’s much more here. Read the whole thing.

It’s excellent work by Fortune.


Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.