Five Lessons on the Road to Hell

Five Lessons on the Road to Hell Image

Today’s lesson in the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” focuses on Astra Zeneca®. The British-Swiss pharmaceutical firm partnered with the University of Oxford to develop the only no-profit, COVID vaccine aimed at addressing US/Europe’s needs but also that of the developing world. Although it had never developed a vaccine, it was great intent and a great brand narrative.


One year later, the storyline can be captured in four words: strong launch, weak deployment. The company has lacked transparency on results, has been perceived to mismanage its trial methodology, ineptly navigated negotiations with world leaders, and to put the cherry on top of this catastrophe sundae, they have dropped the ball on communicating every step of the way.


Business lessons from this well-intended dumpster fire:

  1. If the business activity you're about to launch is not core knowledge, double down on managing your risks.
  2. Be transparent because the alternative leaves you with few allies who trust you or come to your defense.
  3. Delivering on promises IS the brand. Even the best of intentions don’t excuse failure to honor your commitments.
  4. Humility always beats hubris. If the brand—and especially your leadership—goes off the rails, come clean and get back on track with stakeholders.
  5. Ultimately, everything gets reduced to communications. Start the way you want to finish. Identify every possible scenario and every stakeholder at the start and always come to the journey prepared for an adventure. Because business communications are always an adventure. 

Astra Zeneca will bounce back and we should cheer them on every step of the way. Afterall, the company dared to do the incredible: develop a new vaccine for the world in record time. Mission accomplished and they have learned alot along the way. We should too. Dare and dare to fail. But if you see someone on a pathway to hell, go the other way.