Doing Things Right or Doing The Right Thing
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.
|Jeffrey S. Wigand, Ph.D.|
Growing up in the Bronx in a devout Catholic family, Wigand went on to study chemistry and biology at Dutchess Community College in upstate New York but dropped out to join the Air Force in 1961. While stationed in Japan he learned martial arts and Japanese. After his enlistment in the Air Force, he went on to earn a masters and doctorate in biochemistry at SUNY in Buffalo.
His first job out of college he worked for a German healthcare company then went on to work for Pfizer and then Union Carbide. He was on the corporate fast-track to an executive management position and working abroad in Japan.
But his life wasn't all roses. Several months after his marriage in 1971, his wife Linda developed MS. And by the time they welcomed their daughter Gretchen into the world in 1973, Wigand was already a workaholic distancing himself from the stress at home. "I really did not have a marriage," Wigand said. "If I said I didn't play around, I would be lying. Linda came back [from Japan] to the States, and something happened in my parents' house. She went home to Buffalo." Eventually, their marriage dissolved.
With his career as his number one priority, Wigand went on to work for Ortho Diagnostic Systems (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) as the director of marketing, and then as a senior vice-president for Technicon where he was responsible for marketing blood testing equipment. But he had one bad habit: speaking his mind. "I don't take too much crap from anybody!" Wigand said. He just could not censure himself. During this time, he married his second wife, Lucretia, in 1986 who was from a well to do family in Louisville, KY. But Wigand's house of cards began to fall apart after he lost his job at Technicon. In 1987, he became the President of a small medical equipment company, Biosonics, in Fort Washington, PA, but lost that job due to his abrasive personality.
Now unemployed, he thought about going to Medical School, but his wife convinced him he was too old. Then a headhunter approached him about a job with a tobacco company in Louisville, Brown & Williamson (formerly British American Tabacco). Having worked for over 17 years in the healthcare industry, it really didn't sound like a good career move. But he was offered a staggering salary of $300,000 a year (more than he'd ever made in his life) as head of Research & Development with a $30 million a year budget and a staff of 243. That clinched the deal. Plus his wife was from Louisville too; and with a new baby, he needed to support them. "I thought if I made big bucks she would be happy," Wigand said. "[And] I thought I would have an opportunity to make a difference and work on a safer cigarette." In January 1989 he went to work for B&W.
But that was all wishful thinking. Wigand essentially sold-out to Big Tabacco! And his abrasive New York style didn't mesh well with B&W's collegial southern style. The R&D lab he was in charge of was only a stage prop. "The place looked like a high-school chemistry lab from the 1950s with all sorts of old-fashioned smoking machines. There was no fundamental science being done." Wigand said.
After he took over, he went to work updating the lab, buying new computers, and hiring a physicist and toxicologist. His lab worked on developing a "safer cigarette" but that project was soon canceled. They studied fire safety vis-a-vis cigarettes. And they worked on reverse engineering Marlboro cigarettes, the iconic brand of Richmond based Philip-Morris.
Office politics eventually became untenable at B&W when senior management ostracized him. Wigand became isolated and increasingly unhappy at work, and he was disillusioned that his dream job had turned into a nightmare. So he became more outspoken and confrontational with his superiors and his annual evaluations suffered. The company was in the process of getting rid of him.
At home, his wife Lucretia noticed the changes in his mood. And their oldest daughter Rachael developed serious medical problems. "Rachel was not diagnosed correctly from birth. Both specialists and general practitioners, including Lucretia's father, unequivocally stated that Rachel did not have any problem, even after substantive testing. I finally sought out a respected adult urologist who made the diagnosis of spina bifida. This required spinal surgery." Righteously upset, Wigand threatened to sue the doctors who had misdiagnosed his daughter and he became estranged from his father-in-law.
Finally, on March 24th, 1993, Wigand was abruptly fired from B&W and unceremoniously escorted out the building. After being fired, he was unsuccessful at finding another job. He began to worry and his self-respect began to decline. He became depressed. He complained to a friend at B&W about his severance package, but his friend betrayed his confidence to his former boss and B&W filed a lawsuit against him for breach of contract threatening to take away his medical benefits which he desperately needed for his daughter Rachael. B&W was essentially playing hardball in order to shut him up. Wigand said, "If Brown & Williamson had just left me alone, I probably would have gone away. I would have gotten a new job." So he reluctantly signed a strict, lifelong confidentiality agreement in order to drop the lawsuit and keep his medical benefits. By October of 1994, Wigand was drinking heavily and his marriage to Lucretia became unbearably strained.
With his self-esteem in tatters, his anger boiling over, and needing to pay his bills, Wigand began consulting confidentially on various tobacco issues with CBS's 60 minutes for $1000 a day. His name began to circulate in anti-tobacco circles and soon he was consulting for ABC, the DoJ, and the FDA. He tutored FDA scientist, administrators, and attorneys on ammonia additives, nicotine-impact boosting, and what documents to subpoena. His self-esteem was improving. Eventually, he got a full-time job - teaching chemistry and Japanese to high schoolers for $30,000 a year (a tenth of what he was making at B&W)!
After much soul-searching, Wigand appeared on 60 Minutes on February 4th, 1996 and became known as the Big Tobacco whistleblower. By going public on national television about Big Tobacco, Wigand was instrumental in helping to reign in the tobacco industry and in changing the public's attitudes and perceptions of Big Tobacco. Most of the goodwill Big Tobacco had evaporated like a puff of smoke. In November 1998, the four largest tobacco companies in the U.S. settled the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement with 46 states. Wigand was subsequently portrayed by Russell Crowe in the award-winning 1999 film "The Insider."
Today, Dr. Wigand no longer teaches high school but makes a living as an expert witness in tobacco litigation, an anti-tobacco consultant, and a motivational speaker and teacher. He lives a quiet life in Michigan with his third wife Hope.
Wigand went from "Doing Things Right" in order to become successful to "Doing The Right Thing" in order to save his soul and the lives of millions of people. I guess you could say he lost his life in order to find it again.