The Seattle Times has some advice for Icos shareholders:
Shareholders of Icos, the Seattle area’s largest locally owned biotech company, have another few days to think about whether to sell out to Eli Lilly, which has just raised its offer by $2 a share. Lilly has not changed its intention to close Icos and lay off all 550 employees here.
[…] Management, which stands to gain tens of millions of dollars in bonuses from the deal, was telling shareholders Lilly’s $32-a-share offer was good. Now, it’s $34 a share. Shareholders might think twice before taking its word for it and selling so easily.
At the risk of being branded a dirty commie, I’d like to also suggest that local shareholders might also think twice about whether their personal profit should take precedence over the broader interests of their community — both the community in which they live and the community of Icos employees.
This is an issue the local media seems to have gingerly danced about since Lilly announced their intention to shut down Icos and lay off all 550 employees. The decision has been described as “strange” and “unexpected,” but now that Lilly has made its intentions clear, Icos managers and shareholders can’t blame Lilly for the layoffs. If shareholders approve the deal, they will be directly responsible for shutting down a company they helped create, and laying off all of its employees. They can’t just blame Lilly; they must blame themselves.
I know it is apostasy in a nation that deifies capitalists to suggest that there is more to life than maximizing ones profits, or that individuals have an obligation to society that sometimes trumps personal self-interest. And it may appear idealistic and naive to advocate that there are some values that can never be quantified on a spreadsheet. But it is likewise idealist and naive to hide behind the notion that the market always makes the most efficient allocation of resources.
No doubt many Icos shareholders are only in it for the money, and they should follow the Times advice and evaluate Lilly’s offer based purely on whether they are getting a high enough price for their shares. But I’d wager that many shareholders — as well as the vast majority of Icos employees — also take pride in having helped to build something larger than themselves.
A vote to sell out is a vote to dismantle Seattle’s largest locally owned bio-tech company and lay off all of its employees, and I don’t think it unfair or unwise to ask local Icos shareholders to factor that into their decision. And if Lilly ultimately prevails, and yet another local bio-tech company is bought out and shut down, I think it is time to ask our elected officials to reconsider whether the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other public subsidies we are investing in this industry is really benefiting the region, or merely benefiting a handful of savvy investors?