Is It Worth it?

2 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2019

See all articles by James R. Detert

James R. Detert

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Christina Black

University of Virginia

Abstract

After finishing a PhD in immunology and working for a few years for a large pharmaceutical company, Eric Lafferty entered an executive MBA program intending to reorient his career toward more meaningful work. Thus he leapt at the chance to work in a significant leadership position at a government agency where he would be in charge of a group that vetted academic proposals to work toward experimental vaccines and drugs. However, he begins to reconsider it all after a series of bad experiences with a direct report whom he cannot fire. The case is designed to surface and explore students' instinctive decision-making and action tendencies around a complicated problem. Thus it is short enough to be read and responded to in class. Students are assigned readings and assignments related to the case after class discussion in which they are encouraged to reflect on their initial responses.The case is quite flexible and would work in any course that deals with leadership, difficult conversations, decision-making, organizational behavior, human resources, and related topics. It is appropriate for a range of levels and audiences, including undergraduate, MBA, and executive education.

Excerpt

UVA-OB-1276

Mar. 1, 2019

Is It Worth It?

After finishing a PhD in immunology and working a few years for a large pharmaceutical company, Eric Lafferty used his executive MBA program as a vehicle for refocusing his career. He wanted to use his academic background and still be somehow involved in developing new drugs, while also focusing more on discovery aimed at the world's most vexing health problems and neediest populations. Unfortunately, he had observed firsthand how big pharmaceutical companies generally did not have the leeway to focus R&D on the riskiest projects, especially if it involved seeking solutions primarily for those who wouldn't be able to pay much of anything for the products. Lafferty was no longer interested in this status quo—that is, in helping develop, for example, a slightly better cholesterol medicine that might yield high profits but would only be available to the richest people in the richest countries. Instead, he wanted to help families and neighbors in his hometown in rural Louisiana, and the hundreds of millions like them around the world, who still suffered from ailments for which there were no affordable, effective treatments available. He simply didn't believe that people should suffer or die because corporate science over-prioritized “ability to pay” and under-prioritized “revolutionary health improvements.”

So Lafferty leapt at the chance to work in a significant leadership position at a government agency where he would be in charge of a group that vetted academic proposals to work toward experimental vaccines and drugs. In this position, he would have the power to administer millions of dollars in funding each year for drug and vaccine development that might actually help people irrespective of their ability to pay. Even though Lafferty understood that joining the federal government meant he would have less freedom as a leader in some respects, and that he would be compensated less compared to the private sector, he saw this agency as perhaps the preeminent place to support pharmacological R&D in a way consistent with his values.

. . .

Keywords: defining moments, management, government, leadership, ethics, organizational behavior, difficult conversations, decision-making, human resources, employee relations

Suggested Citation

Detert, James R. and Black, Christina, Is It Worth it?. Darden Case No. UVA-OB-1276. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3354962

James R. Detert (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Christina Black

University of Virginia

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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