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Sunday, October 13 Business

Purdue Pharma’s HR troubles highlighted in consultant’s testimony

STAMFORD — Purdue Pharma is grappling with about 30 open positions while also struggling to keep employees, according to the court testimony of a consultant who has worked with the bankrupt OxyContin maker in recent months.

The Sept. 26 deposition of Jesse DelConte, which has been cited in new federal bankruptcy court documents, confirms earlier accounts of the company’s embattled workplace environment. Based on the testimony, DelConte appears to work for Alix Partners, a Manhattan-based consulting firm that has advised Purdue in recent months.

“Distressed situations in general can be difficult,” DelConte said, in part, in the testimony. “Retention can be difficult. … This is sort of, like, super difficult, twice over.”

A message left Monday for Purdue was not immediately returned.

An Alix spokesman declined to comment. On LinkedIn, a profile lists a Jesse DelConte as a director at Alix, with “over 15 years of restructuring and financial advisory experience.”

Purdue’s open jobs reflect a tarnished reputation that has hampered recruitment, according to DelConte. Through bankruptcy, the company is trying to resolve about 2,600 state and local lawsuits that allege it fueled the opioid crisis with deceptive OxyContin marketing.

“One of the things that they had mentioned is the stigma of Purdue has made it difficult to fill those positions,” DelConte said. “They said it’s difficult when somebody from Purdue reaches out for them to — you know, sometimes people just don’t even respond.”

In the deposition, DelConte also discussed the recent departures of some Purdue executives, including its chief medical officer and vice president of research and development.

“I know from a discussion at the board (meeting) that he (the VP of R&D) was unhappy with direction of the company and his ability to do R&D deals, which was his job,” DelConte said. “That was, I think, the basis for him leaving.”

Purdue and an affiliated firm, Rhodes Associates, have cited their difficulty in keeping workers among their arguments for proposed employee bonuses that would total more than $40 million.

From 2018 to today, Purdue and Rhodes have experienced an attrition rate of more than 25 percent among the top tier of employees participating in a non-executive retention plan, according to a filing last month.

The document said the rate likely would have been even higher without the program. It pointed to “extraordinary circumstances” that include downsizing, the “burdens” of working amid the pending lawsuits and related “negative publicity,” and a demanding workload tied to bankruptcy.

“Failure to continue the non-executive retention plan at this point could result in a catastrophic loss of talent,” the filing said. “Moreover, the debtors believe that it would be extremely difficult to attract replacements in the current environment and given the debtors’ ongoing challenges.”

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About 500 remain at Purdue, with slightly fewer than 250 based at its downtown Stamford headquarters, according to court documents and company statements. In comparison, the firm employed about 1,100 at the beginning of 2018.

Last year, Purdue laid off several hundred employees after it stopped marketing its opioids and disbanded its sales force.

In another part of the testimony, DelConte estimated that approximately $12 billion to $13 billion have been transferred from the company to the Sackler family members who own Purdue, during an unspecified period.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and other state attorneys general have described those transfers as fraudulent. Representatives of the Sacklers have responded that those funds generated billions of dollars in tax revenues and reinvestments in businesses that would be sold as part of a settlement with the plaintiffs.

Some two-dozen states including Connecticut have opposed Purdue’s settlement offer, which calls for the company to be turned into a trust or similar entity that could distribute tens of millions of doses of opioid overdose-reversal treatments and the Sacklers to make a payout of at least $3 billion and also transfer funds from the sale of their international pharmaceutical businesses.

Tong and about his counterparts who have rejected Purdue’s proposed terms have argued that more funds are needed to tackle the opioid crisis and expressed doubts about Purdue and the Sacklers’ motivations for restructuring the company.

At the same time, attorneys for more than 2,000 cities and counties and another two-dozen state attorneys have backed the settlement framework — which Purdue values at more than $10 billion.

The next hearing in the Purdue bankruptcy case is set for Thursday in a federal court in White Plains, N.Y.

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

Paul Schott|Staff reporter

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