Not too long ago I wrote a satire piece on Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.
Chasing the Innovation that never was — Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes.
Startups; what a wonderful and splendid term for up and coming Businesses.
In the article I mocked her, primarily for running a scam within the Health-Care industry and poked fun at James E. Burke’s unimaginable sacrifice to control the Tylenol Cyanide Crisis in 1982.
It got me to thinking; maybe we’d really just forgotten or gotten too greedy in our own self-pride and ego that ‘crooks always come undone’.
We’d forgotten the power of retaining good-will.
Doing right by the people you work for — Your Customers.
I’ve always believed, a CEO or any individual in power; whether it be in the Private Sector or the Government, works for the people.
When we get too proud and forget who we work for, and how we got to where we did; that’s when the dominos come falling down.
To give readers a highlight on James E. Burke’s legacy,
In 1982 — tampering occurred with Tylenol bottles (At the time Johnson and Johnson’s most successful analgesic product on the market) and a total of Seven people died as a result of what was later discovered to be Cyanide poisoning.
At the time of this event, Johnson and Johnson had a total of 35% of the Market Share within an Industry worth upwards of $1.2 Billion USD.
After the news was released to the public, their market share dropped to roughly 7%.
It was time for Mr. James E. Burke to make an important decision.
From an analytical point of view; Johnson and Johnson had immaculate Batch control and could’ve easily recognised which Lot of products had been tampered with, but Mr. James E. Burke believed otherwise.
His opinion was that instead of analysing how many bottles were affected and raising the risk of further deaths; He made the bold decision of issuing a recall of all the 31 Million Tylenol Bottles all across America.
A decision that cost the parent company a total of $100 Million USD.
It was a bold decision; one that took courage, vigour, tenacity, and the humanity to realise that the time spent on analysing and saving the costs of recalling just the bottles that were assumed to have been tampered with; wasn’t worth losing another life as a result of their product.
So he recalled each and every bottle across America.
A decision that, normally, would get a CEO fired or at-least result in extreme scrutiny from the Board of Directors.
But Mr. Burke didn’t stop there.
He went on to launch a country-wide campaign to raise awareness of the risks of the product and urging people to not use Tylenol until it was pronounced safe.
Furthermore, he went on to fund the legendary research that led to the innovative development of Tamper-Proof Safety Bottles; that we see in use to this very day within the medical industry.
Ensuring that customers, when buying a bottle of Tylenol in the future, could be assured it had not been tampered with.
It became the bench-mark for popular medicine packaging all over the world.
In a further move towards maintaining public trust; He decided the new Safety Tamper-Proof packaging would have absolutely no effect on the Cost of Tylenol to the consumers.
When the dust settled; it had become clear that Burke had just accomplished a wonder beyond the imagination of the mundane and greedy businessmen.
He was a man of Science; He believed in the value of a human life.
And the cost one pays for taking one as a result of their product.
The reputation of the company’s name was worth a lot more to him than the cost of the recall.
A year later, Tylenol was released to the market and Johnson & Johnson had regained their market share; ending the year 1983 with a total of 40% of the Market-Share.
When asked about his enthralling decision, he spoke with humility.
Highlighting the company’s credo and the foundation upon which the company stood.
“The company is responsible first to its customers, then to its employees, the community and the stockholders, in that order”
“The credo is all about the consumer. When those seven deaths occurred, the credo made it very clear at that point exactly what we were all about. It gave me the ammunition I needed to persuade shareholders and others to spend the $100 million on the recall. The credo helped sell it.” — James E. Burke.
Mr. James E. Burke didn’t weasel his way out when it came to answer to the general public; he faced it with pure honestly and complete openness.
He even went as far as to contact every news media outlet to keep them well informed as the issue developed, He cooperated with Directors of the FDA and FBI in an attempt to put an end to the crisis and catch the culprit.
He developed a culture of trust that proved that Johnson and Johnson was a company willing to stand by its customers and a CEO who wasn’t going to hide behind his desk when faced with turmoil.
“Trust has been an operative word in my life. [It] embodies almost everything you can strive for that will help you to succeed. You tell me any human relationship that works without trust, whether it is a marriage or a friendship or a social interaction; in the long run, the same thing is true about business.” — James E. Burke in “Lasting Leadership”
As a result of his Leadership as the CEO of Johnson and Johnson and the selfless act of putting customers first — He earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the year 2000 from President Bill Clinton.
His name and legacy is also forever marked as the mogul of Crisis-Management.
And if there’s anything that was true then and is true to this day.
- Greed never leads to a life of normality and wealth. Good character and the Bravery it takes to take a stand on what’s RIGHT is the ultimate goal to a successful Business and Leadership.