Johnson & Johnson’s “Our Credo” turned 80-years last week, prompting me to reminisce about its architect, James Burke, and the DISPATCHES’ article I wrote about him.
This article is not only apropos of the birthday of the “Our Credo” but lessons on leadership. It appears that sound leadership is uncommon. On the world political stage, we have a: brutal mass murder leading his country down the road to isolation; a brave and dedicated fighter for freedom and democracy; and one whose policies and reasoning are incoherent and out of touch with the majority of his country’s citizens. On the business front, we’re faced with visionary leaders under fire from their governments and opportunists out to enrich themselves at the cost of their companies’ employees and customers.
This tribute is about an authentic leader and the model he provides for marketing managers and aspiring leaders.
James Edward Burke, better known as “Jim” to all employees at Johnson & Johnson, is a personal marketing hero and inspiration. You may not know Jim as he passed from this life on Friday, 28 September 2012, at 87.
Jim Burke served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at J&J from 1976 – 1989. He successfully led the company through the Tylenol crises of 1982 and 1986 and built the trust that the brand and company earned and enjoyed for many years.
Jim was a leader, not based on his position in the company, but on how he managed his life and inspired others within J&J to act responsibly in addressing the needs of several constituencies. His decisions and actions define what it means to be a great leader.
Jim Burke was a great leader. Hopefully, the values and practices that guided his leadership and shared in this article will inspire every one of us to be great too in serving others with integrity and courage.
If you think of him just as another power-hungry, greedy, out-of-touch with the public CEO, it is probably because you didn’t know Jim. Or you aren’t aware of his reputation, which we hope to remedy by sharing the recognition he received from notable people and organizations outside of J&J:
- Jim received the Bower Award for Business Leadership in 1990. The annual award recognizes one who personifies outstanding qualities and attainments in leadership, the advancement of sound economic practices, and adherence to the highest ethical standards.
- The National Business Hall of Fame chose him for membership.
- Former President Bill Clinton awarded Jim Burke with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award for contributions to our country. He received this award based on his leadership in the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a not-for-profit group he chaired from 1985 – 2005, and his work in the Tylenol crisis.
- In 2003 Fortune named Jim Burke “one of the ten greatest CEOs of all time.”
What brought Jim this recognition? Today, in this age of corporate hubris, many executives position themselves to receive the credit that they don’t deserve. Did Jim deserve his recognition? He earned every bit and more based upon “defining actions.”
Our Credo – Jim elevated and institutionalized the company’s Credo (Our Credo), which was initially crafted by Robert Wood Johnson, a member of J&J’s founding family, by achieving the commitment of its people to uncompromising standards for moral and ethical behavior in serving the public good.
The Credo was written to guide the company’s actions and its people. But Jim was dismayed that many people within the company weren’t acting consistently with it. Some viewed it as a “public relations gimmick.” Jim felt it represented the soul of the company, the company’s responsibility to society, and ethical management in establishing the sacred trust with all the constituencies it served. And, if J&J managers couldn’t live by it, then they should “rip it off the walls; otherwise, it is a (mere) pretension.”
So, he held meetings with J&J leadership throughout the world to challenge the Credo and their assumptions of business management. As a result, they adapted and committed themselves to “Our Credo” to reflect the highly responsible values that would provide direction to everyone in the company, in good and bad times. You can find it here: https://www.jnj.com/sites/default/files/pdf/our-credo.pdf
Tylenol Crisis – In the Fall of 1982, disaster struck the Tylenol Brand. In Arlington Heights and Elk Grove Village, just outside of Chicago, several people were poisoned from cyanide-laced Extra Strength Tylenol capsules in what may have been one of the first cases of product tampering (or terrorism) cases.
Despite the enormous financial burden to the company, Jim took action to have ALL Tylenol capsules removed throughout the US, not just Chicagoland or the state of Illinois, and destroyed. He stated what was undoubtedly his heartfelt belief that the company’s financial loss did not compare with the loss suffered by the families and friends of those of whom were poisoned. Contrary to the advice of counsel, who were concerned with the company’s obligations, Jim appeared publicly through broadscale media, permitted the press to sit-in on company meetings dealing with the management of the situation, and made himself available, day and night, to calls from the heads of network media.
When a manager proposed that Tylenol begin advertising to reassure the public of product safety, he called it a “non-sequitur.” He felt that to reassure consumers and preserve the public trust, Tylenol must introduce Tamper Resistant Packaging for all its capsule products to afford the best protection against tampering.
Tylenol introduced TRP with three barriers to tampering: 1) glued flaps to the outer cardboard box housing the container; 2) a red seal over the container cap; and 3) once the cap was screwed-off, an aluminum seal over the top of the container, which posed the final barrier to its contents. Moreover, he refused to pass along the increased cost of the packaging to consumers but absorbed it because, in his view, it was the right thing to do.
Jim was credited and lauded for managing the Tylenol crisis. However, unlike many of today’s CEOs, he downplayed his role and, instead, credited his actions to being guided by that same Credo he worked years earlier to shape and institutionalize. In reality, Jim’s values were the same as those expressed in “Our Credo.”
The Values of Jim Burke
Jim Burke’s values are no different from the values for responsible leadership. They may sound simple. They may appear easy. But they are not so simple and easy when they may prove costly and damaging to the company and one’s career. Here are a few of the values we inferred from his talks and actions:
- It is okay to challenge sacred cows regardless of whence they come, be it your corporation, community, government, or even church.
- Invite leaders, and give them the opportunity, to challenge their own beliefs.
- Organizations are no different from individuals in their responsibilities to the public good.
- Businesses need not only think about profit but should also address some of the more significant issues of society.
- A company should be guided by a set of shared values that has everyone’s commitment.
- If you violate the public good, they will rebel against you.
- Let’s not stand for hypocrisy. Let’s not ignore practices that are inconsistent with beliefs.
- Do what is morally and ethically correct and best for the business to meet the needs of society.
- Commit to what is correct and decent.
- Listen to your intuition about what is correct.
- Serve the public first!
- While the “Our Credo” is a powerful tool, people need to understand it and feel it in their hearts and minds to translate it into effective action.
- Relationships are built on “trust.” It’s no different between individuals, like family members, or organizations with the public and, even, its employees. Once you lose trust, then the relationship is gone.
- To engender trust, we must behave ethically in serving others.
- Set standards for behavior and do not tolerate anything that violates those standards.
- “Our Credo” (document) liberates creativity.
- We need to take care of ALL constituencies.
- People are the asset that makes it happen.
- Do it better than everyone else.
It’s not enough to mouth these values or laud them, for they are nothing without living them. Jim Burke lived them.
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Make your marketing matter more. Please read Richard’s most recent book, AVOIDING CRITICAL MARKETING ERRORS: How to Go from Dumb to Smart Marketing. Learn more here: http://bdn-intl.com/avoiding-critical-marketing-errors. It will help you avoid critical marketing errors and, importantly, suggest actions you can take to make your marketing matter even more.
Peace and best wishes,
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney