Ireland: White elephant syndrome


Cormac Callaghan, founder and managing director of Primecore, a portfolio and program management consultancy based in Dublin and Cambridge, Massachusetts, has managed large-scale change programs for the pharmaceutical industry for the better part of 30 years. He has seen his share of setbacks: between 2006 and 2008, Callaghan was the first, and last, Irish employee of a major biotech that made and subsequently reversed a decision to construct a new campus in Cork.

Callaghan refers to this case as a “‘failure’ with inverted commas”: “You might say that this was an investment gone wrong. Personally, however, I believe that it was an investment gone right. It was a smart, and very brave, decision to bring the program to a timely end. There have been many examples in the industry of companies not having the courage or strength of conviction to reverse course, and building costly ‘white elephants.’”

Callaghan points to a macro environment that, more than ever before, will punish companies that deploy constrained resources to execute a questionable business case. Callaghan observes, “Companies need to ask the right questions about the robustness of their business case, in a broad sense: not whether the program is on schedule or on budget, but rather, ‘Is this something we still need?’—Thereby freeing up scarce resources to work on something of greater value.”

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