Karen Katen

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Executive vice president, Pfizer; president, Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals

Nationality: American.

Born: 1948, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Education: University of Chicago, BA, 1970; MBA, 1974.

Career: Pfizer, 1974–1983, marketing associate in Roerig Division, then marketing and general-management positions; 1983–1986, vice president of marketing; 1986–1991, vice president and director of operations; 1991–1993, vice president and general manager; 1993–, executive vice president of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Group; 1995–, president of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals and corporate executive vice president.

Awards: 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, Fortune , 1998–2004; 25 Top Executives, BusinessWeek , 2002.

Address: Pfizer, 235 East 42nd Street, New York, New York 10017; http://www.pfizer.com.

■ Karen L. Katen was executive vice president of Pfizer as well as president of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, the company's principal operating division, and held a seat on the company's board of directors. After joining Pfizer in 1974, Katen was involved in the marketing of virtually every major drug launched by the company. Her group produced eight of the world's top 25 pharmaceutical products, including the world's top seller Lipitor, with annual sales approaching $10 billion. Described as one of Pfizer's most respected leaders, Katen was known for disseminating knowledge throughout the organization, building strong cross-functional teams, and championing collaboration.


A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Karen Katen attended the University of Chicago, where she graduated in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Katen landed a job in

Karen Katen. Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images.
Karen Katen.
Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images

sales at an office supply company shortly after graduation. After one year on the job, she returned to the University of Chicago and earned her MBA in 1974.


Katen joined Pfizer in 1974 as a marketing associate in the Roerig Division. From the beginning she found a perfect fit for herself in marketing and management, eventually holding several management posts within the U.S. Pharmaceutical Division, including vice president of marketing in 1983, vice president and director of operations in 1986, and vice president and general manager in 1991. She was named executive vice president of the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Group in 1993. By 1995 she was promoted again, to president of Pfizer U.S. Pharmaceuticals. In 2001 Katen assumed responsibility for global business in more than 90 countries as president of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals. Katen's roles entailed direct management of worldwide medical and regulatory activities and the worldwide development of pharmaceutical products. She was also a member of the prestigious Pfizer Leadership Team.


Throughout her career at Pfizer, Katen developed and implemented several core strategies that, though considered givens by today's management thinkers, were nevertheless in their time quite innovative. While most industry executives maintained that their companies' products were prescription medicines, Katen reframed the conceptual model in asserting that pharmaceuticals was essentially a knowledge business grounded in intellectual capital. Fundamentally, she told Molly Rose Teuke of Chief Executive , "what we do is transfer scientific knowledge to physicians, and increasingly to patients, their families, and their communities" (July 2001).

This distinction became central in her drive to distribute knowledge throughout Pfizer's many internal functions—functions which were often encapsulated by silo mentalities at other companies. Indeed, as noted by Teuke, Katen was known to have a paperweight on her desk with the inscription, "Who else needs to know?" (July 2001)—a question alluding to the ongoing need to share information. Katen asserted, "Knowledge is a company asset, not the property of any individual, and that's our greatest strength" (July 2001). At a time when many senior executives saw the dissemination of knowledge as a threat to their corporate fiefdoms, Katen applied the principle of knowledge dissemination relentlessly, thus propelling Pfizer to become a marketing powerhouse.

Her philosophy was evident in Pfizer's "Share Fairs." At Pfizer meetings employees displayed "good practice" posters, enabling colleagues to learn about the latest best practices. Whoever wanted to implement a new concept could borrow the poster in question on the condition that they share a "good practice" of their own. All of a meeting's participants could take two posters and display two posters of their own, ensuring the dynamic dissemination of knowledge.

Katen noticed that the delivery of pharmaceuticals, as part of the delivery of health care in general, was an inherently local enterprise. As such global companies like Pfizer needed to adapt their messages to consumers in ways that suited local cultural and demographic conditions. Here too Katen fostered an environment of local empowerment. By the mid-1990s, breaking a long-standing tradition of launching products one market at a time over the course of a decade, under Katen's leadership Pfizer localized product launches so that any given product was distributed throughout 75 markets within 24 months.

During her tenure at Pfizer, Katen's achievements fell into three general categories: blockbusters, partnerships, and the sales force. In terms of blockbusters, during the 1990s Katen helped launch 10 innovative pharmaceuticals produced by Pfizer's research and development program, including Viagra, for erectile dysfunction; Lipitor, to lower cholesterol; Zyrtec, an allergy medicine; Zoloft, for depression; Celebrex, for arthritis pain; Norvasc, for hypertension; and the leading antibiotic Zithromax. With respect to partnerships, before Pfizer's 2000 acquisition of the company, in 1997 Katen engineered a lucrative co-marketing deal with Warner-Lambert to help market its cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, which became the number-one lipid-lowering agent in the United States by 2004. Finally, Katen oversaw the addition of 750 representatives to Pfizer's sales force, which was one of the most respected in the industry.

With two key acquisitions in the early 2000s—Warner-Lambert in 2000 and Pharmacia in 2003—Katen managed the largest integrations in the history of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. As a result of both internal growth and these acquisitions, revenues for the Global Pharmaceuticals group reached $45 billion in 2003—nine times greater than 1993 revenues.


Katen's management style was the very antithesis of the classic top-down, authoritarian approach; she was well known for her ability to build cohesive teams within a highly competitive company. She assembled cross-functional groups to launch products, a strategy that proved very successful as team members worked together for the full period—often 10 to 12 years—during which a product was undergoing clinical trial and awaiting regulatory approval. She encouraged open communication among individuals from various functions, including scientists, physicians, salespeople, and marketers, both before and after Food and Drug Administration product approval. The resulting sense for the need to communicate openly filtered down throughout the organization, permitting cross-functional team members to address issues quickly.

Katen was known for fully developing the people working under her. Peter Brandt, the senior vice president for finance, planning, and business development at the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Group, told John Slania of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, "Karen truly believes in and cares about her people. She realizes the importance of developing people and she does that by pushing them—keeping their feet to the fire—and also by providing them with the resources and support to get the job done" (March 2004).

Dr. Joseph Feczko, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Group's senior vice president for medical and regulatory operations, offered Slania this perspective: "She relies very heavily on the experience and technical knowledge of the physicians in her group, but she's not intimidated. While she's a bottom-line type of person, she brings a human face to the business. She's interested in doing the right thing, even if it's not supportive of the bottom line" (March 2004). This attitude was evident when Katen supported the Pfizer CEO Dr. Henry A. McKinnell's initiative to provide Pfizer's antifungal drug Diflucan to AIDS patients in Africa free of charge.


Katen was one of the most highly respected women in the pharmaceutical industry, managing a larger business unit than any other female manager in the industry. Her stature was evident from her membership in the industry's leading organization, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America, as well as a member of the boards of directors for General Motors, the Harris Corporation, and the RAND Corporation and was a trustee of the University of Chicago and a council member of its Graduate School of Business. She served on the boards of directors of several health and community organizations.

See also entry on Pfizer Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

"Karen Katen," Pfizer Web site, http://www.pfizer.com/are/media/mn_news_media_biographies_katen.cfm .

Slania, John T., "Prescription for Success," University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, http://gsbwww.uchicago.edu/news/gsbchicago/f00/features/daa/katen.htm .

Teuke, Molly Rose, "Think Globally, Inform Locally," Chief Executive , July 2001, http://www.chiefexecutive.net/ceoguides/july2001/p31.html .

—Carole S. Moussalli

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