In 1943, a year before he took the company public — and generations before company culture and corporate responsibility became buzzwords — Gen. Robert Wood Johnson wrote down a company credo for Johnson & Johnson.
The credo, which has dictated the course of action for the company for decades, included five key responsibilities:
- To the doctors, nurses, hospitals and mothers who use our products;
- To the company’s employees;
- To the company’s management;
- To the communities in which the company operated;
- And to the stockholders.
While the concept was new to the business world, the beliefs were not new to Johnson & Johnson. The company had been living by them for nearly 60 years. The general just wanted to ensure they became engrained in the public company that was about to be created.
So said J&J historian Margaret Gurowitz, who has been with the company for nearly four decades.
“Gen. Robert Wood Johnson wanted to ensure that the values that had guided the company since we were founded would continue to guide Johnson & Johnson as the company grew globally and evolved for the future to meet more needs for patients and communities around the world in the future,” she said. “He wanted to ensure that the values remain intact.”
Those values still work today. In fact, they may still be ahead of their time.
There is a commitment not only to making high-quality products, but also delivering them on time and at a price where the company’s dealers could make “a fair profit.”
There is a commitment to employees — men and women — to have a clean and orderly workplace that paid a fair wage and gave employees a “sense of security” for their jobs and the opportunity for promotion.
There is a commitment to being a good corporate citizen — which included supporting good works and charity and bearing “our fair share of taxes.”
“Gen. Robert Wood Johnson was very much a leader and ahead of the time,” Gurowitz said.
The Johnson & Johnson credo has been studied in business schools for decades — and at the company on a daily basis.
“It is engrained in everything we do,” Gurowitz said.
It literally is on the wall as employees come into the company’s headquarters in New Brunswick — as well as every other facility J&J has around the world.
“Johnson & Johnson has always believed that our credo and the values in it are more than just our moral compass, but it’s also a recipe for business success,” Gurowitz said.
“The fact that Johnson & Johnson is 137 years old this year, and, since we’re one of a handful of companies that have continued to flourish through more than a century of change, is proof (of) those values.”
One of the reasons for that success has been a willingness to embrace change — without changing the values of the credo.
There have been five updates (with the latest coming in 2018) to ensure the company’s credo remains relevant. The current version calls for an “inclusive work environment” — among other modern terms.
Gurowitz said the company is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the credo this year to ensure it remains a guiding force while Johnson & Johnson undertakes its biggest moment since going public — the creation of Kenvue, a spinoff of the company’s consumer health brands.
“Johnson & Johnson is at the cusp of this big change to ensure that the company would continue to grow and innovate to meet more needs worldwide and future, just as we were 80 years before,” she said.
“That’s why this is a particularly meaningful anniversary.”
It’s also why Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Duato, when he recently rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, was surrounded by employees who represented the credo.
It’s one thing to put words on a wall — or celebrate them at a town hall meeting of employees.
Gurowitz said Johnson & Johnson shows its commitment to its credo by its bigger-picture efforts. It’s something the company has done since its founding.
In 1889, just three years after the company was founded, Johnson & Johnson donated medical products to helping survivors of the horrific Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood. It did the same for the Galveston, Texas hurricane in 1900, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 — and every major natural disaster since.
Its commitment to community goes deeper — and is felt in New Brunswick.
In 1970s, after the company had moved its manufacturing facilities out of New Brunswick, many encouraged the leaders to move their corporate headquarters, too. Doing so would have been a crushing blow to the city.
The fact that J&J stayed was the impetus for a revitalization of the city that continues today.
“Out CEO at the time, Richard Sellars, said, ‘We have a commitment to our hometown,’” she said.
Gurowitz said the company does not make the credo a major part of the onboarding of new employees for one simple reason:
“If you’re interested in working at Johnson & Johnson, I would suspect you would learn about our credo and its values long before you actually come in on Day One as an employee,” she said.
What’s more impactful, Gurowitz said, is living the credo day by day.
“When it was written, it’s one of the earliest statements of corporate social responsibility,” she said. “Our credo was novel, with an emphasis on the ethical values that would guide Johnson & Johnson — and the obligation to put the needs and well-being of the people we serve first.
“Our credo represents the values that have guided the company since we were founded in 1886. It has stood the test of time.”
The Johnson & Johnson credo
“We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs, everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to provide value, reduce our costs and maintain reasonable prices. Customers’ orders must be serviced promptly and accurately. Our business partners must have an opportunity to make a fair profit.
“We are responsible to our employees who work with us throughout the world. We must provide an inclusive work environment where each person must be considered as an individual. We must respect their diversity and dignity and recognize their merit. They must have a sense of security, fulfillment and purpose in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must support the health and well-being of our employees and help them fulfill their family and other personal responsibilities. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide highly capable leaders, and their actions must be just and ethical.
“Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit. We must experiment with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed, investments made for the future and mistakes paid for. New equipment must be purchased, new facilities provided and new products launched. Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times. When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”