For many, many years, Johnson & Johnson was the most admired company in the world on virtually every survey. It built its reputation as an honest, trusted maker of pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and consumer products. Its trusted position was secured in 1982 when it suffered a devastating crisis in which Tyleno, laced with cyanid killed 7 people in the Chicago area. The reaction from J&J, whose McNeil Labs makes Tylenol, is perhaps THE case study for both corporate values and crisis management.
J&J has had a Credo since 1948. It was written by General Johnson at that time to let potential investors know how he was running the company. If they agreed with his direction, they were welcomed to invest. He set expectations, which, as I have mentioned on many occasions, are the basis of reputation. There was to be no surprise for how the company would operate. The Credo has only four paragraphs which discuss J&J's "responsibilities". The responsibilities are, in the following order of importance: to customers, employees, communities and shareholders. J&J was clear that if it were true to meeting its responsibilities to customers, employees and society, shareholders would be well served. Its Credo is the inverse of the way most companies operate, putting shareholders #1 above all others.
When the Tylenol crisis hit, Jim Burke, the then Chairman of J&J asked his team to read the Credo and decide from it what course of action was appropriate. It was clear that J&J had to pull Tylenol from shelves. It also stopped all J&J advertising. Within two-weeks of the crisis, J&J introduced a new, triple-sealed Tylenol--an enormous R&D and manufacturing accomplishment. The company did not look at this as a crisis of one product, but rather a crisis for the entire company. Tylenol regained its previous market share within four-months, despite the predictions from many who said that the product was dead. J&J went on to be admired for its actions. Its trustworthy actions built trust amongst stakeholders.
J&J's culture, as captured in the Credo, was tested during that crisis and was reinforced as being its guiding set of values. Whenever something was in question, the company could return to the Credo.
So, it comes as a major shock to most observers that the same plant that made Tylenol--the Ft. Washington, PA--plant, is now shut down and is being investigated for the lack of adequate safety precautions. It was making Tylenol that exceeded proper dosage--a potentially deadly situation. The Federal Drug Administration has said that it was following the problems at the plant. J&J officials appear to have known about the lax safety and quality programs there and turned a "blind eye" to them.
This is not the same J&J company. This is not the company of the Credo. This is a company that seems to have focused so much on cost containment that the message got people moving in the wrong direction. The entire management team should be held to account for this. I can't even imagine what this has done to the "psychy" of former J&J executives who are looking at a company that is a far cry from the one they used to work for. J&J has slipped mightily and with that slip has tarnished one of the brightest stars in the corporate horizon. Let's hope that this shocks J&J management back to their senses and that they renew their faith in and focus on the Credo. It is even more important today than it was when written some 60-years ago.