lunch with the most hated man in America

This week the FT invited the personification of US corporate greed to lunch. He is Martin Shkreli, a 33-year old American entrepreneur. Some background is useful for this FT interview. I culled the following from Wikipedia.

Mr Shkreli was born in Brooklyn, NY, to Albanian and Croatian immigrants who worked as janitors. He dropped out of high school before his senior year, and managed to earn a BA in business administration from Baruch College in 2004. He was a very successful businessman, co-founding two firms (a hedge fund and a biotechnology firm) before founding Turing Pharmaceuticals.

In September 2015, as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Shkreli obtained the manufacturing license for Daraprim, a life-saving drug for AIDS and cancer patients, and immediately raised its price from US$13.50 to US$750 per tablet. This lead him to be known as the “most hated man in America”.

In October 2015, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders acknowledged receipt of a $2,700 donation from Shkreli, whom he had previously called a “poster child of greed”. Sanders, however, said he would forward the money to a Washington, D.C. community health clinic.

In December 2015, Shkreli was arrested by the FBI after being charged with securities fraud. He resigned as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and is free on bail pending trial.

[Regarding the Daraprim controversy,] “To me the drug was woefully underpriced,” he says. Rather, he thinks he should have charged a higher price still because Daraprim can keep people alive: “It is not a question of ‘Is this fair?’, or ‘What did you pay for it?’, or ‘When was it invented’. It should be more expensive in many ways”. …. “If you have a drug that is $100 for one course of therapy, and you know that you can charge $100,000, what should shareholders think when you say, ‘I’d rather not take the heat’?” he asks. ….

“My whole life has been one theme of self-sacrifice for my investors,” he replies, without batting an eyelid. “I did it for my shareholders’ benefit because that’s my job. The political risk is being shamed — and shame isn’t dilutive to earnings per share.” ….

The conversation, like any other in the US these days, soon turns to the presidential election. While not registered to vote, Shkreli instinctively supports Donald Trump despite his flaws. ….

Shkreli says he does not hold a “deep animus” towards Clinton ….

“If I’m greedy and addicted to money, she’s greedy and addicted to power — and apparently a little bit of money too,” he says, referring to the millions of dollars in personal wealth amassed by Clinton ….

“I’ve built companies I can point to. What can she point to? A career in public service? She made a bunch of money doing that? It makes no freaking sense.” ….

[Shkreli] confesses to mental health problems in the past.

“I see a psychiatrist. I have done since I was 18. I started having panic attacks and they were pretty bad. Then I took this one drug and I’ve been taking it for 15 years. One of the reasons I love pharma is my experience of that drug.”

The drug in question is a version of Effexor, an antidepressant that was discovered around 30 years after Daraprim. Later I look up the price — as little as 17 cents a pill. The medicine, he says, is a miracle. “It has made me invincible in some ways.”

David Crow, “Lunch with the FT: Can Martin Shkreli defend corporate greed?“, Financial Times, 29 October 2016 (metered paywall).

This is a great interview, even by the high standards of lunch with the FT. There is more in the full column.


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