The extremely well compensated CEO and Chairman of Johnson and Johnson, the huge and recently hugely troubled US based pharmaceutical and device company, is going to retire, at least as CEO. Reporting on this event may shed a little more light on the sorts of leadership problems that now commonly afflict health care organizations.
Johnson and Johnson was once one of the US' most respected companies. Its credo, written in 1943 by Robert Wood Johnson, bravely begins:
We believe our first responsibility is to doctors, nurses and patients, 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.Dishonoring the Credo
Yet in the last few years the company has not honored this credo.
It seems to have lost the ability to manufacture high quality products. It has had to make 30 separate product recalls since 2009. The latest was Liquid Infant Tylenol. (The current WSJ Health Blog list of recalls can be found here.)
Johnson and Johnson also has an amazing recent record of ethical lapses and guilty pleas, including:
- Convictions in two different states in 2010 for misleading marketing of Risperdal
- A guilty plea for misbranding Topamax in 2010
- Guilty pleas to bribery in Europe in 2011 by J+J's DePuy subsidiary
- A guilty plea for marketing Risperdal for unapproved uses in 2011 (see this link for all of the above)
- Accusations that the company, which makes smoking cessation products, participated along with tobacco companies in efforts to lobby state legislators (see post here)
- A guilty plea to misbranding Natrecor by J+J subsidiary Scios (see post here)
- Most recently, in 2012, testimony in a trial of allegations of unethical marketing of the drug Respirdal (risperidone) by the Janssen subsidiary revealed a systemic, deceptive stealth marketing campaign that fostered suppression of research whose results were unfavorable to the company, ghostwriting, the use of key opinion leaders as marketers in the guise of academics and professionals, and intimidation of whistleblowers. After these revelations, the company abruptly settled the case (see post here).
Disconnect Between Leadership Performance and Rewards
Nonetheless, until very recently, the top leadership of the company continued to collect outrageous compensation, and to be regarded as a font of health care wisdom, even by the current US administration.
In 2010, the company gave CEO and Chairman William Weldon over $29 million in compensation, saying he "met expectations," (see this post).
In 2011, just days after the company pleaded guilty in the Risperdal marketing case (above), CEO and Chairman Weldon was invited to the White House to discuss health care (see this post.)
Just after his resignation was announced a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Weldon would get an increased bonus for 2011 ($3.1 million, up from $1.98 million in 2010), and an increased base salary ($1.97 million up from $1.92 million.) His total compensation for 2011 was not yet revealed.
Swapping One Salesman for Another
A single New York Times article suggested one reason why Weldon's reign was ultimately so unsuccessful, and perhaps why his successor may not do better.
Alex Gorsky, the newly named chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, shares a crucial biographical detail with William C. Weldon, the man he is succeeding. Both got their starts as pharmaceutical sales representatives, a notoriously grueling job that — because it demands stamina, charisma and a near devotion to making the sale — has become a crucible for future drug company executives in recent years.
Indeed, Mr Weldon's official biography indicates he "served in several sales, marketing and international management positions." The official biography of CEO-to-be, Alex Gorsky, stated he "began his Johnson & Johnson career as a sales representative with Janssen Pharmaceutica in 1988. Over the next 15 years, he advanced through positions of increasing responsibility in sales, marketing, and management." Previously, he earned "a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and spent six years in the U.S. Army, finishing his military career with the rank of Captain. Alex earned a Master of Business Administration degree from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1996."
Apparently neither current nor nominated CEO had any direct experience in patient care, nor in biomedical or clinical science, nor in chemistry, engineering or manufacturing. So both are generic managers, that is, health care leaders without any direct experience in health care, or in the science and technology underlying it.
"Making the Numbers" Versus the Credo
Moreover, they are both a particular type of generic manager, salespeople. As the Times reported:
Mr. Gorsky, who is 51, fits the mold of someone who once 'carried the bag' — industry slang for working as a sales representative. He is known as a polished speaker and an intense yet likable manager who is a quick study when it comes to learning new topics.
However, while sales people may be personable, they often have goals that have nothing to do with responsibilities "to doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers,...." As the Times article also noted,
But the ethos of the sales representative may not be what Johnson & Johnson needs right now, said Erik Gordon, who teaches business at the University of Michigan. 'That culture was very much the Weldon culture writ large — we will make our numbers for the analysts, period,' he said. 'And if that means we have to cut costs on things that affect quality, then by God, we’re going to make those numbers.'
So while Johnson and Johnson for years prided itself as a company that put the needs of patients and health professionals first, it hired leaders from the culture of sales where the impetus is to "make the numbers," to fulfill short term revenue goals, no matter what. This illustrates how generic management given perverse incentives in an era that honors greed and puts short-term economic goals ahead of all others had hollowed out health care.
We wish Mr Gorsky well, but worry that if he too focuses just on making the numbers, the result will be only mischief.
The Moral of the Story
Health care organizations need leaders that uphold the core values of health care, and focus on and are accountable for the mission, not on secondary responsibilities that conflict with these values and their mission, and not on self-enrichment. Leaders ought to be rewarded reasonably, but not lavishly, for doing what ultimately improves patient care, or when applicable, good education and good research. On the other hand, those who authorize, direct and implement bad behavior ought to suffer negative consequences sufficient to deter future bad behavior.
If we do not fix the severe problems affecting the leadership and governance of health care, and do not increase accountability, integrity and transparency of health care leadership and governance, we will be as much to blame as the leaders when the system collapses.