Karma is a lovely thing. For instance, had Martin “Pharma Bro” Shkreli not been brazen enough to gouge the prices of not one, but two critical drugs, we would have never known that he was under fire for looting one of his former companies to appease investors in his hedge fund. Well, his female counterpart, Heather Bresch, is getting a similar dose of karma. Had she not decided to ratchet up the price of the EpiPen, we might have forgotten that she didn’t really earn her MBA–or that the manner in which her “degree” was “granted” resulted in several heads rolling at a major university.
For years, Pharma Sis maintained that while working her way up from a low-level quality control clerk to a senior executive at generic drugmaker Mylan, she earned an executive MBA from West Virginia University in 1998. However, Raw Story reminded us that back in 2007, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discovered that Bresch’s MBA doesn’t really exist. Soon after Bresch was promoted to chief operating officer and heir apparent to Mylan’s founder, Milan “Mike” Puskar, the Post-Gazette called WVU for what should have been a routine check on Bresch’s credentials.
At first, WVU officials said that while Bresch had earned an undergraduate degree in 1991, she didn’t earn an MBA. However, when Bresch refused to bend on her claim that she had completed her graduate work, WVU reversed itself and retroactively awarded her an MBA. School officials maintained that due to clerical errors, she hadn’t received proper credit for six classes that she needed to complete her degree. She hadn’t received her diploma because she never paid the graduation fee.
However, a Post-Gazette investigation revealed that this was bogus. There was no evidence Pharma Sis–then known as Heather Kirby–ever paid for the six missing classes. Additionally, five of her professors said they were never consulted on the required grade changes, and at least two of her MBA classmates didn’t recall seeing her at the graduation ceremony. Ultimately, the Post-Gazette concluded that Bresch stopped her coursework 26 credits short of the requirement to earn her degree.
In response, WVU launched an independent investigation which found that Bresch didn’t really earn her MBA. Watch this 2008 report from West Virginia PBS here.
The panel issued a scathing 95-page report which found that the decision to retroactively award Bresch an MBA was the product a hasty and “seriously flawed” process that resulted in grades being awarded “simply out of thin air.” The degree was awarded at a hastily-convened meeting in October 2007 that lasted little more than an hour.
It also found that the decision was shot through with favoritism–though not of the sort that you may think. Bresch is the daughter of Joe Manchin–then the state’s governor, now a U. S. Senator. Puskar is a major donor to WVU; his name is on both the business school’s endowed deanship and the stadium. However, the panel found that the main factor in the decision was to avoid embarrassing an alumna who had just gotten a major promotion. While Bresch accepted the panel’s recommendations, as late as 2010 she still maintained she had done the work required to get her MBA.
This probably explains why Bresch thought ramping up the price of EpiPens would be even remotely acceptable. Had she actually taken the courses she needed to get her degree, she would have likely gotten some courses in ethics. By raising the price of a vital drug while ramping up her own salary, Bresch has given us a lot of reason to question where her compass is. Well, now we know that compass was never set.