Pharma exec crosses the line with crass Taylor Swift remark.
Martin Shkreli is raising eyebrows again.
Since jacking up the price of HIV medication Daraprim by more than 5,000% in September, the young hedge fund manager and pharmaceutical executive has become a household name and drawn the ire of Democratic Presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
More recently, Shkreli made headlines when aBusinessweek story revealed that he paid $2 million for the only known copy of a Wu-Tang Clan album.
In an exclusive interview with the Web site HipHopDX on Wednesday, Shkreli sounds off on everything from his business practices to Wu-Tang to Taylor Swift. Some of the things he says are downright shocking. They aren’t statements a CEO, no matter how bold or careless, would usually say on the record.
So it begs the questions: Is this acceptable? Should investors take action?
In the HipHopDX interview, Shkreli discusses the recent comments from Wu-Tang Clan members who say they wish they could take their album back. “If I hand you $2 million, f—ing show me some respect,” he said. “At least have the decency to say nothing or ‘no comment.’”
If anyone wants to hear his Wu-Tang Clan album, of which there is only one copy, he has a price for that, too. “I’m not going to play it for no reason,” he said. “If Taylor Swift wants to come over and s— my d— I’ll play it for her.”
Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals, the firm he leads, did not respond to a request for comment.
“The bottom line is, when you look at his choice of language and the way he describes himself and others, it’s very hard to understand how this person is the chief executive officer of a company,” says Lauren Rikleen, an attorney, author, and president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership. “A CEO who is completely uninterested in the impact of his words is bad for business.”
Rikleen, who has often written about gender issues in business, adds that Shkreli’s comment about Taylor Swift should be especially troubling to his business partners. “His disdain for women comes through in that comment,” she says. “You don’t make that kind of comment unless you have a complete antipathy towards women, you just don’t, you wouldn’t think of saying it. So, at what point do his investors say, ‘Is this who I trust to run this business?’ That’s the question that should be asked amidst all this publicity he’s getting.”
Shkreli has shown that he isn’t bothered by any hate sent his way on social media. He proudly tweeted the HipHopDX story, with one of his own quotes from the article.
In some ways, Shkreli’s attitude mirrors that of presidential candidate Donald Trump. He embraces critics and responds to some of them on Twitter, usually dismissively. Rikleen notes the similarities, and says that as far as Trump goes: “I blame the media here more than anything. They give him whatever air time he wants because he’ll say things that drive ratings.”
Is the media also to blame for making Shkreli famous? With every new, shocking thing he does, every outlet covers it. (Fortune, too, is doing so.) If the press ignores his antics, will he go away?
The better question may be whether anyone involved in Shkreli’s businesses will decide he needs to go away.
Turing Pharmaceuticals is a private company and can happily do as it wishes in terms of maneuvering prices for profit. But will Shkreli’s cavalier remarks be tolerated by his partners? Meanwhile, it isn’t clear who those partners are. Privco, the financial intelligence firm, was unable to find any information at all on Turing’s shareholders or investors. “The company seems to be extremely secretive,” a Privco analyst tells Fortune.
Shkreli started hedge fund MSMB Capital in his 20s. In 2011 he started a pharma called Retrophin RTRX5.38%, which repeatedly raised the prices of old drugs. The company fired him last year and has accused him, in federal court in Manhattan, of taking money from Retrophin’s coffers to pay back investors in MSMB Capital. Shkreli called the claims “preposterous.”