Pfizer General Counsel Doug Lankler Discusses Ethical Leadership Amid a Pandemic


On March 10 the Center for Judicial Events & Clerkships (CJEC) and the Fordham Corporate Law Center welcomed Doug Lankler, executive vice president and general counsel of Pfizer, for a virtual fireside chat.

CJEC Assistant Dean Suzanne M. Endrizzi ’96 moderated the chat, which revolved around Lankler’s career path to and within Pfizer, his perspectives on leadership, and Pfizer’s race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. While the fireside chat was held virtually, it was designed in a format to facilitate a dynamic discussion between Lankler and the Fordham Law community.

“Having had the pleasure of knowing Doug for almost 20 years I knew this was not only a unique opportunity for our community to gain insights into an extraordinary period in our collective history, but for our students to get a master class in leadership,” said Endrizzi. “For all of us attending this was a talk that reminded us about the importance of servant leadership.”

The Path to Pfizer

For Lankler, the desire to pursue a career in the law began as a child at the dinner table listening to stories from his father, who served as an assistant district attorney in the homicide bureau.

After law school at Cornell, Lankler joined the litigation department of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York, and subsequently served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

In 1999, Lankler joined Warner Lambert’s in-house legal department. In 2002, when Pfizer and Warner Lambert merged, Lankler transitioned over to Pfizer to help build out the compliance function, ultimately becoming the company’s first chief compliance and risk officer in 2006. Under Lankler’s leadership he developed a strong compliance program within the company, which has since grown to 130 employees. In 2013, Lankler was named general counsel, a role he current holds, and which he calls “the best of all worlds.”

Though he grew up wanting to be a litigator just like his father, Lankler said becoming a lawyer for a pharmaceutical company has been equally rewarding. “I love it, it’s absolutely, incredibly fascinating work,” he said. “And I firmly believe in our purpose—Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives—which I think is incredibly important and something that I’m proud of.”

The Moral Compass Pointing Due North

Seven years after becoming general counsel, Lankler’s role evolved overnight as the world came to a halt in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Despite the uncertainties, Lankler stayed true to his—and Pfizer’s—values while the company sought to develop a vaccine.

“The beginning of the pandemic was scary … but ultimately, our number one rule was to make sure that the patients were protected,” said Lankler. “I’d tell my team all the time, ‘We have to make sure the patients are protected every day and that no one is cutting corners.’ And all my calls with Albert [Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer] began with ‘patient safety is number one.’”

Reflecting on the last two years, Lankler advised Fordham Law students to always remember to follow their moral compass and be servant leaders. “What we relearned throughout this process [during the pandemic], again and again, is you always have to do the right thing,” said Lankler. “You have to be able to say, ‘I stand by what I did and the advice I gave, and if we had to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly that same way.’”


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