In the fall of 1982, James Burke, the chairman of Johnson & Johnson, faced the biggest crisis of his career. J&J learned from a reporter that their flagship product, Tylenol, had been linked to seven poisoning deaths in the Chicago area. No one knew how or why the capsules had been poisoned, and Burke didn’t know how widespread the danger to the public might be.
What would you do?
The Bible suggests we should start the decision-making process by considering the potential consequences of our actions. Deuteronomy 28 shows that some actions bring blessings while others bring curses. What actions could Burke take to save his company from potential curses? How could he bless consumers and the Tylenol brand for the future?
Burke quickly considered the consequences of several strategies, with a focus on keeping customers safe. Though it cost Johnson & Johnson $100 million in the short term, Burke convinced J&J shareholders to recall all Tylenol capsules. Burke also directed an expensive media campaign to warn consumers against taking Tylenol until it was deemed safe again.
The effort was costly for Johnson & Johnson in the short term, but it saved the Tylenol brand in the long term. After J&J launched a new tamper-proof packaging, Tylenol quickly regained its lost market share. The public rewarded Burke for the trust he had built up during the crisis through his transparency and ethical decision-making.
When you face a tough ethical dilemma, think about the potential consequences of each of your choices. List all the consequences you can think of, both short term and long term. Does one choice yield more blessing?
Lord, give me your insight into the consequences of my choices. Guide me towards blessing and away from curses. Amen.
Focusing on consequences has its limits. For more insight, read the Theology of Work Project article "Can the Good Be Calculated?"
Information for today’s case study came from "Tylenol and the Legacy of J&J’s James Burke." Time, 5 Oct. 2012, http://business.time.com/2012/10/05/tylenol-and-the-legacy-of-jjs-james-burke/