Johnson & Johnson, the company held on a pedestal for its unequivocal, bold response to tainted Tylenol in the 1980s, is being hauled back in front of Congress to defend its current record on faulty product recalls. It serves as a reminder that maintaining your reputation is a journey, not a pit stop.
The company in recent months has engaged in a phantom recall of Motrin and recalled over-the-counter drugs such as liquid Tylenol, millions of contact lenses and tens of thousands of artificial hips, all made by separate units of Johnson & Johnson.
"Does Johnson & Johnson oversee its divisions properly or do they have too much autonomy?" asks Congressman Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "Does the big name – Johnson & Johnson – mean quality, or do you have to judge each division separately?"
A health stock investor told The Washington Post, "These problems are accumulating. At some point, investors are going to start to question J & J's management."
After being mum for months, Johnson & Johnson CEO William Weldon has gone on the offensive, attempting to reassure consumers and policymakers the company has overhauled its manufacturing and quality control systems. But some business and communications experts wonder if it is too little, too late.
J & J's recent pratfalls seem sharply out of step with its long-time value statement of putting patient safety first. Management's focus has drifted off to acquisitions, resulting in a conglomerate with an incredible 250 divisions. Weldon and his team talk proudly about the success of their decentralized management of this empire. But that misses the point -- Johnson & Johnson has only one reputation, and it has been severely bruised.
The company that set the gold standard for responsible crisis response should elevate its own self-expectations. Making money is important. Satisfying Wall Street is essential. And so is fulfilling the promise to every J & J consumer that its products are effective and safe.
From Johnson & Johnson, we shouldn't accept the least. We should expect the best.