Minnesota Dean Medical School on Pepsi Board

A report in the local Pioneer Press reveals that the Dean of the Medical School of the University of Minnesota, Dr. Deborah Powell, has accepted a paid position on the board of PepsiAmericas, “one of the world’s largest sellers of Pepsi and Mountain Dew.”
 
Soft drinks are the very products that have been linked to childhood obesity and diabetes. 

Pioneer Press reports: “Like other outside directors, Powell will be paid in cash and PepsiAmericas stock for her service on the beverage company's board, including a $30,000 annual retainer, $2,000 for each board meeting attended and $60,000 in stock.”

Corporations always get their money's worth–they don't pay academics to be critical of their policies:
“As a corporate director, she's responsible for directing PepsiAmerica's management and the company's long-term success for shareholders.”

Shareholders’ interests are in direct collision with public interest. 
"When an expert joins this kind of board, clearly it's going to compromise their ability to speak out," said Michele Simon, author of "Appetite for Profit," a book that accuses giant food companies of preaching public health while pursuing strategies that undermine it.

Dr. Powell is not the only dean to cash in on her academic position. One U researcher wants a "serious conversation" about the ethics of corporate consulting.  Dr. Powell was elected Chair of the Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Council of Deans in 2004.

What is the AAMC position regarding deans of medical schools selling their reputation to corporations who seek to sanitize their public image?

The conversion of academia into a corporate industrial outpost raises serious questions:
a.  about professional and moral integrity,
b. what does a publicly subsidized, medical school and its faculty owe the citizenry who are providing major financial support.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
212-595-8974
veracare@ahrp.org
 
 

<http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/16834570.htm      >
Pioneer Press
U medical dean's Pepsi connection splits peers
Powell sees board role as chance to promote nutrition; critics say she's being used
BY PAUL TOSTO
Mar. 05, 2007

University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Dr. Deborah Powell expected questions after joining the board of PepsiAmericas, one of the world's largest sellers of Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

Three months after Powell signed on with PepsiAmericas, though, the questions haven't ebbed. Outside critics continue to ask why a high-profile state health official would join with a firm whose main products are linked to childhood obesity and diabetes. One U researcher wants a "serious conversation" about the ethics of corporate consulting.

Powell said she wanted to be a voice for nutrition in the boardroom. She and her boss — who backs her decision — say the PepsiAmericas position is proper and valuable to the university.

A recently completed internal review, standard for any U employee involved in outside work, found no conflict of interest in her service to PepsiAmericas, a publicly traded company that is the world's second-largest bottler of PepsiCo. brands.

That may not put the matter to rest. The appointment has wound itself into the national debate over how food and soft-drink makers do business. The basic questions: Can a doctor take money from a corporation but stay independent? Is joining a corporate board equal to endorsing its products?
"If I didn't think I could make a difference on this board, I wouldn't stay on it, and I wouldn't go on it in the first place," Powell said Friday. "I'm trying the best I can to do something that I think will be valuable for the school and valuable for this company.

"If it turns out it doesn't create value, then I won't stay on this board," she said.

Inside the U's health programs and departments, divisions remain over Powell's decision. Some have expressed hope that she can be a voice for children's health.

But Robert Jeffery, a nationally known researcher and a director of the Obesity Prevention Center in the U's school of public health, worries Powell's PepsiAmericas duty ultimately may hurt the university.

"There is a level of 'ick' among quite a few faculty and students here," Jeffery said. "There definitely are some sour feelings. When you're talking about some of the most powerful people in the university backing it, it makes it distasteful."

The U, he said, needs to have a "more serious conversation about where the ethical lines lie in corporate consulting. Whenever you get into a paid relationship with a commercial enterprise, there is an implied or maybe even explicit agreement that you're doing things for their benefit. I certainly would not have agreed to this."

With public concern rising about marketing and overconsumption of soft drinks and the health problems that can result, "I think the university does run the risk of being seen in a less favorable light by having a high-profile person taking a high-profile consulting job … in an industry that people are trying hard to regulate," Jeffery said.

Food companies have recruited doctors in recent years to serve on nutrition advisory boards and help with "health and wellness" campaigns. University of California San Francisco Medical School dean and former FDA chief Dr. David Kessler, who spoke at the U two weeks ago on the "obesity epidemic," is an adviser to soda and snack food giant PepsiCo.

Powell's position is different. As a corporate director, she's responsible for directing PepsiAmerica's management and the company's long-term success for shareholders.

The basic dilemma, though, is the same. Can a doctor bridge both worlds?
"Ultimately, it involves a personal risk-benefit calculation of sorts: the trade-off between risk of perceived erosion of credibility and objectivity versus prospects of potential benefit for the public good," said Dr. Michael McGinnis, a senior scholar with the national Institute of Medicine and chairman of its children's food-marketing committee, a panel that in 2005 concluded industry marketing and sales practices were putting "children's long-term health at risk."

Each situation is different, he added, and doctors must size up the company and the potential for change before they sign on.
PepsiAmericas chief executive Robert Pohlad serves on the dean's board of visitors for the U medical school and asked her to join his corporate board. The company's top management works out of Minneapolis.

While PepsiAmericas is shifting its energy toward water and healthier drinks, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Mountain Dew remain its most important brands, accounting for about half the company's $3 billion in U.S. sales.

Like other outside directors, Powell will be paid in cash and PepsiAmericas stock for her service on the beverage company's board, including a $30,000 annual retainer, $2,000 for each board meeting attended and $60,000 in stock.

Powell said the money didn't factor into her decision. "I didn't know before I went on the board that I would be paid," she said.

Some advocates believe health leaders are naive to think they can change the dynamic in the executive suite.
"When an expert joins this kind of board, clearly it's going to compromise their ability to speak out," said Michele Simon, author of "Appetite for Profit," a book that accuses giant food companies of preaching public health while pursuing strategies that undermine it.

Putting doctors on boards is part of food company strategy to protect their public relations image, she said. PepsiAmericas, she added, now has "the dean of one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country."

The U's top health official sees it differently.
"What better way to get knowledge about obesity into the company than by bringing it into the boardroom?" said Dr. Frank Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences at the U. He oversees all aspects of medicine and health research at the U, including the medical school and the school of public health.

"It seems to me like a very appropriate role for the university, providing there are no conflicts of interest that haven't been disclosed," Cerra said. Citing his travel experience in remote areas of the world, Cerra added he was "awfully glad there are companies like Coke and Pepsi around" to provide a source of drinkable liquid and electrolytes in those regions.

Powell said she finds it insulting that anyone would think she'd use her position on the PepsiAmericas board to interfere with or inhibit obesity studies or any other research at the U. One critic has suggested Powell donate her PepsiAmericas board money to obesity and health research. Powell said she makes charitable contributions but that her philanthropy was her own business.

After two board meetings, Powell said, she's already come away with a useful tool from the corporate world. PepsiAmericas, she said, does an excellent job in succession planning for top management, a practice she said she can use in her work at the U.
Paul Tosto covers higher education and can be reached at ptosto@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-2119.

© 2007 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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