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Eli Lilly's Lesson in Long-Term Thinking

It's easy to let short-term necessities overshadow long-term goals. Who cares about five-year plans when you've got to sort through this week's inventory and meet this month's payroll?

But muddling along from day to day only takes you so far. Sometimes you've got to look at the future of your business to figure out the right moves to make today.

Take Eli Lilly (LLY - Get Report). This week, the company announced it would pay $6.5 billion to buy ImClone (IMCL), the biotech company once infamous for its connection to the Martha Stewart insider-trading scandal.

This might not seem like the best time for a big corporate buyout. With the economy almost certainly about to plunge into a recession and consumers jittery, Lilly would only go after a deal this big if it had a lot riding on it. ImClone's new-drug pipeline may just be the key to Lilly's future.

Have you put similar thought into your long-term prospects? Considered how your products will sell in three years? Ten years? If not, you may be missing out on opportunities right now.

Pharmaceutical companies have no choice but to look long-term, given how much time goes into developing and testing drugs. That means execs must not only assess how they're doing today, but also place bets on where they'll be in the future. It's hard to know what will pay off, as promising drugs may look great in the lab but turn out to be duds in clinical trials. That's why execs have to keep plenty of options in the development pipeline, rather than allow profits to depend on one or two blockbuster products.

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