Great Engagements

Great Engagements: The Once and Future Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson has occupied the leading edge of progress since it was launched more than a

century ago.


As part of its mandate to periodically document its history and growth, in 2004 the company embarked on a bold project. I was asked to report on where the storied Johnson & Johnson stood on a number of dimensions. No door was closed to me. I traveled to Johnson & Johnson companies in North America and Europe and spoke with more than 200 employees and executives. The result was Great Engagements: The Once and Future Johnson & Johnson.

Great Engagements: The Once and Future Johnson & Johnson is an attempt to take stock of where Johnson & Johnson is and where it is going. The book is based on the premise that a candid examination of Johnson & Johnson’s cultural legacy and recent evolution will reap significant business benefits.

An Inside Look at Johnson & Johnson… from an Outside Point of View

Great Engagements is a new book that – as its subtitle “The Once and Future Johnson& Johnson” suggests – explores the Company’s recent history and attempts to answer some of the most critical questions it will face in the years ahead. Author John Kador talks about the experience of writing the book and some of its key themes.

From a Q&A Conducted with John Kador

What was the genesis of the book? It began over two years ago and there was a certain evolution involved. From the beginning, Johnson & Johnson communications professionals determined that an external perspective would best serve the book’s purposes. I would come in as an outside observer and report the book from an external perspective. I would go in with a blank slate and allow the book to go wherever my research took me. As a result, the book itself is a product of the content that emerged. I quickly found thatJohnson & Johnson is particularly rich in its corporate culture – what I call mythological property – and I began to understand that Johnson & Johnson, more than most companies, is deeply committed to an ideal represented by the stories, rituals and values that the operating companies have cultivated.

What, as you see it, is the purpose of the book? The book ought to help Johnson & Johnson people around the world pin down an understanding of the aspects of the Company that generate real meaning and purpose.As my research progressed, I began to understand that for Johnson & Johnson meaning and purpose go well beyond the specific goals that Bill Weldon sets out each year. Those goals are achievable. But the ideals embodied in the Johnson & Johnson culture and mythology are designed to be not quite achievable. It’s in their pursuit that they have real power. It’s in the striving for these ideals that motivates Johnson & Johnson to meet the stated objectives. I wanted to articulate those goals, ideals and values. This kind of book is important for a company like Johnson & Johnson, with its enormously diverse internal audience. There is a huge value in looking inward.

What was involved in the research process?

I wanted to report from the grass roots up rather than the top down. I started with people closest to customers – sales people and marketing managers – and captured the story as it is lived, rather than as it is articulated by executives. No door was closed to me.Everyone was extremely candid. People understood that the stories they had to share were vital to the company. In a sense, Johnson & Johnson is so decentralized that it has a hard time getting a clear picture of itself. The complexity is immense.

You write: “The definition of business purpose is to create ever-greater engagements.” How does this relate to the book’s title? The title, Great Engagements, came to me after many months of doing the research. It embodies two of the concepts that underlie my approach. With the word “great,” if I am right, I’ve attempted to articulate something that I saw in the Company and try to bring itout in the book. “Engagements” signifies relationships inside and outside the Company– with partners, competitors, investors, regulators, and so on. I learned a great deal about these engagements. The book looks at the dimension of all the relationships and where they are going. There may be things here that people disagree with, or struggle with, but that’s good. I hope my reporting will lead to questions that people don’t have immediate answers for. I also learned that certain tensions – between short-term opportunism and longterm planning, between centralization and decentralization, for example – are key to the Company’s strength. In this sense, the book articulates the arguments for the Company’s strategic themes: broadly based, committed for the long term, and decentralized.

Tell us something about your own experience in writing this book. I had a wonderful time with this project and have a warm and wonderful feeling for everyone at Johnson & Johnson. I made a lot of friends. It wasn’t easy to remain an outside observer. Johnson & Johnson people welcomed me very warmly.

It didn’t take long for me to see that the Credo serves as an organizing principle forJohnson & Johnson. That’s something I have never [quite] seen before in writing about hundreds of companies. In my experience, none live a set of values as intentionally asJohnson & Johnson. In this respect and many others, Johnson & Johnson has earned my esteem.