Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Johnson & Johnson Credo and Your Message

By Michael A. Barr

Here is a message that will teach and inspire you – whether you are starting a business or have been running one for a long time. Sixty-six years ago, Robert Wood Johnson, the Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, wrote the company’s Credo – its beliefs. Briefly, the responsibilities of the company are to the:
  1. Customers
  2. Employees
  3. Community
  4. Stockholders
Customers must get products and services of high quality; Employees must be respected and developed; We must be good citizens and, “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”

What, you might ask, can you learn from these words? Well, the words are the same as those you can find in many a corporate mission statement; it’s their order that gives the Credo such power. Think about it. The stockholders are last, not first. If we do well by the first three, says the Credo, the stockholder will “realize a fair return.” Not an exorbitant sum, but a fair return.

Fair indeed. Check out J&J’s performance since it went public. By the way, guess how many shareholders there were in 1943? One. Robert Wood Johnson.

But you may be skeptical. Why would J&J employees believe this credo? Aren’t these words, after all?

As a young man Robert Wood Johnson was expected to go to Princeton or to Rutgers, a university with close ties to J&J. Instead, he chose to work at the J&J plant with Hungarian immigrants who took him under their wing. Everyone in the firm knew this.

He walked the talk. He knew the business; he knew the workers; and he knew the community. When social unrest swept through New Brunswick many advisors called for abandoning the town. The company stayed and helped rebuild it.

Words that are collateralized by actions are believed. There was a tradition of action at J&J since it was a startup in 1886 – a tradition that gave the Credo legitimacy. The founders of the company had met with skepticism – who would buy bandages that were antiseptic? It took the founders six years to get the company off the ground; they persevered.

We talk a great deal about credibility and impact in this forum. We remind you often to look at every word you use to measure its effect. The J&J Credo is a useful text in these efforts. Remember that people – especially your people – react to your words by measuring their alignment with your actions. If there is a gap between what you say and what people think you really mean – you have work to do.

The J&J Credo was instrumental in saving Tylenol – and perhaps the entire firm. Your words are tested thoroughly in times of crisis – choose them carefully. Finally, as always, think of the Golden Rule: appeal to others as you would want them to appeal to you. And if you do all this, you too should realize a fair return. We certainly hope so, and stand ready to help you find the right word in the right situation.

Today’s article is presented by Michael A. Barr, who is a member of our Startup Professionals team. He brings to the table a long list of business and academic credentials, featuring business coaching and communication. Contact him via email at

Marty Zwilling



  1. Just wanted to say that this blog has been full of great stuff lately. Many useful posts on the front page alone. Thanks for your writing.

  2. @Anonymous, thanks for the positive feedback. It means a lot to us. We love to write about the things we know, and hope that you can learn from us. We also hope that you will call us for help when you need it. :-)

  3. Thank you for this very interesting article. It's a wonderful example about the vitality of a vision. A vision that is a way of life and not a "note" hanged on the wall!! I always enjoy learning about organizations that know how to take the simple words of their vision and transformed them to actions and behavior of daily life of as many people as possible in the business.
    Avi Deul, Israel

  4. thanks for the info