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Foran supports corporate culture

Steve Kerins | Thursday, September 30, 2004

Double Domer Peggy Foran, now vice president for corporate governance and corporate secretary of Pfizer, delivered the third lecture in the Cardinal O’Hara lecture series in business ethics Wednesday. Foran earned undergraduate and law degrees at Notre Dame.She began by highlighting some of the recognition Pfizer has received for its strides in accountability. “Corporate governance,” she said, “is the structure and process that links the actions of the board of directors, management and shareholders.” Pfizer has been an innovator in the realm of corporate governance for more than a decade, she said.After providing a profile of Pfizer, focusing on its role as a truly global corporation as well as the largest research-oriented pharmaceutical producer in the world, Foran said it was the company’s early interest in corporate governance that propelled it to the foreground in the area. “One of the reasons we’re a leader is that we got involved with corporate governance before anyone knew what it was,” she said.Foran also touched on the high-profile scandals at Enron and WorldCom, and the government’s response in the form of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The Act provides standards of governance to which companies must hold themselves accountable, she said. When asked how the corporate community has responded to Sarbanes-Oxley, Foran said it has truly made business leaders think. “People are taking [corporate governance] much more seriously,” she said, “but there is a cost associated with that.” She pointed out that many high-level managers at corporations nationwide dislike the Act’s implications, but said that both she and Pfizer support its aims overall.Foran went on to explain how, in the wake of Sarbanes-Oxley, Pfizer is keeping itself in compliance. She stressed the importance of independent, individually accountable directors. “When you have independent directors … who can truly represent shareholders, that’s when you’ll see good decisions made,” she said. Foran also emphasized the “tone at the top,” saying that because employees tend to look to management to set an example, it is vital for corporations to hold their managers to high ethical standards. Finally, she noted that shareholders’ opinions must always be taken into account.Near the end of the lecture, Foran said Pfizer’s continued success in corporate governance rests in the maintenance of a positive corporate culture, including well-documented, ethically sound practices in management and accounting, as well as concern for the environment and the plight of the sick worldwide. After speaking of the company’s ongoing focus in the area, she pointed out that Pfizer and its competitors will have to maintain accountability to prosper in the future. “I think it has to do with research and innovation,” she said. “We’re a pharmaceutical company … we have an obligation to be very transparent.”