She may not have earned her business degree but she surely manipulated the system in spectacular fashion enough to make herself rich and create a monopoly for the company she runs. Is this the American dream? Or is it corruption and crony capitalism? Perhaps the latter. When you see how Heather Bresch weaseled her way to the top you may be screaming about more than just the obscene prices of EpiPens.
The Washington Post outlines her “ethically messy” background.
While the mounting attacks may be enough to unnerve even the hardened chief executive, Bresch has a longer history than most of dealing with such issues and coming out (mostly) unscathed.
In fact, Fortune, in a tough profile, once described her career as being full of “ethically messy mishaps and public relations gaffes.” At least two involve her own father, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
The most scandalous incident occurred in 2008 shortly after she was named the company’s chief executive and involved the master’s degree in business administration from West Virginia University that was listed on her resume. It turns out she never got it. An investigation by the school, prompted by a newspaper report, found that some administrators had added courses and grades to her transcript to make it look as if she had completed the required coursework.
The incident made headlines across the state because her father was governor at the time and the school’s president, Mike Garrison, was a longtime family friend and former business associate.
The controversy blew over quickly for Bresch, and she remained chief executive, but Garrison and a slew of other administrators resign from their positions following expressions of no confidence from students, faculty and alumni.
And then she facilitated the move of Mylan, overseas.
In 2015, Bresch caused another firestorm when she merged Mylan with a company in the Netherlands. The transaction is known as a “tax inversion” and involves joining with a foreign entity to move a legal corporate headquarters abroad. Doing so provides a major advantage: trading U.S. corporate taxes, which at 39 percent are among the highest in the world, for a tax bill from a different country that is presumably less.
And of course, we all know about the ballooning salaries and benefits made by Bresch and other execs at Mylan.
In another article by the Washington Post, they outline Bresch’s rise in the corporate world in parallel with her father’s political ascension. It’s just not too hard to connect dots, here.
Here’s a quick timeline of Bresch’s career, matched up with her father’s.
1986 — 1996: Manchin is a state senator.
1992-ish: Bresch, newly married, with a college degree and a stint teaching aerobics in California, moves back to West Virginia in need of a job.
Here’s how Fortune Magazine’s Jen Wieczner describes how she got one:
Her well-connected father ran into his friend Milan Puskar at a basketball game and finagled her an interview at Puskar’s drug company. Dropping by Mylan’s executive offices, then located in a double-wide trailer in Morgantown, Bresch walked out with a job typing labels in the factory basement.
1996: Manchin runs for governor but comes in second in a crowded Democratic primary.
2000: Manchin runs for secretary of state and wins.
2002: Bresch rises through the ranks and gets her first major job, director of government relations for Mylan (read: head lobbyist).
2003: Bresch is lobbying Congress as it passes a major Medicare overhaul. The 2003 law, among many other things, created an entitlement program for prescription drugs. A Mylan news release praised Bresch’s work with the law, saying it “focused on ensuring consumers’ access to affordable pharmaceuticals.”
2003-2007: Bresch enters the executive world of Mylan. She served as spokeswoman, head of strategic development, head of North American Operations and chief integration officer.
2005: Manchin runs for governor to replace an outgoing Democrat and wins.
2007: Bresch is named chief operating officer of Mylan, where she is in charge of integrating the company’s $6.7 billion acquisition of German drugmaker Merck, one of the largest drugmakers in the world.
As her career soars, Bresch’s first big PR problem hits. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Bresch did not actually have enough credits for an MBA from West Virginia University, even though the news releaseannouncing her new, high-profile job said she had earned one. The school, through its own investigation, found Bresch had been given grades “pulled from thin air” because of her “high profile.”
Her father was finishing up his third year as governor at the time, and Bresch’s critics were vocal about whether her connections led to this drama.
The school took the degree back.
This is the same year Maylan bought the rights to EpiPen.
2008: Manchin wins reelection as governor with 70 percent of the vote.
2009: Breach is named president of Mylan.
2010: Sen. Robert Byrd, at the time the longest-serving senator, dies in office. Manchin runs for the seat and wins.
2012: Manchin wins election to his first full term as a U.S. senator.
2012: Bresch becomes CEO of Mylan. She’s the only woman to ever run a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. (But as Fortune Magazine notes, she was kicked off 2015’s list after technically headquartering her company in the Netherlands, a practice her father said should be “repealed.”)
Bresch writes a mission statement to reach the entire world with Mylan’s medicine, reports Fortune.
The former CEO stays on as executive chair of the company. Despite his insistence Bresch is the one “that runs his company every day,” Bresch has to battle rumors that she’s really his No. 2.
2012: Bresch helps draft reforms in Congress to speed up generic-drug approval by funding more FDA inspections of generic-drug factories overseas. Her outspokenness on the need for more FDA inspections of drug manufacturers abroad make her a headline name in the pharmaceutical industry. “Medicine Woman,” reads the headline of a 2013 Barron’s profile.
Barron’s reports Bresch made hundreds of visits to Capitol Hill to get the regulatory reforms passed. “All these senators were flabbergasted when they found out she was my daughter,” Manchin tells Barron’s. “Of course, John Dingell wanted to adopt her.”
2013: Barron’s reports Bresch is “crusading for wider distribution of of EpiPens. … She maintains they should be as widely available as cardiac defibrillators.”
“I grew up in an era when generics were considered inferior,” Bresch told Barron’s. “People thought they were made in a bathtub.”
Manchin tells National Journal he thinks inversion should “be absolutely repealed.”
2015: Yet another profile on Bresch. Fortune Magazine calls Bresch “the most powerful woman in the drug industry” as it chronicles her attempt to execute the largest hostile takeover in history of an over-the-counter drug manufacturer. (It failed.)
Fortune ranks Bresch No. 22 on its list of most powerful woman.
2016: Not only is Bresch under fire for the EpiPen price hike since 2007, but she’s also weathering bad headlines for her pay spiking over the same time period. NBC reports her pay jumped 671 percent over the past eight years, along with other executives at the company.
So, while you are applying for the second mortgage on your home, to buy EpiPens for your kids, just think about how Americans seemingly don’t rise to success, anymore, based on their own hard work and sacrifice, but only through crony capitalistic networking. You don’t need a degree or an education to succeed. You just need the “right” connections. You can be Bresch is laughing all the way to the bank.