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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 17:24 GMT
Steady course for Johnson & Johnson
By Russell Padmore
BBC World Service business reporter

A newborn baby
Johnson & Johnson is perhaps best known for its baby care products

Ask somebody what Johnson & Johnson makes, and they might say shampoo, baby powder or perhaps disposable nappies.

In fact, the company produces thousands of branded healthcare products, which helped its global sales reach $47bn (24.6bn) last year.

A highly diversified healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson's products range from toiletries, to pharmaceuticals, to medical diagnostic equipment.

The company's roots stretch back to the period following the American Civil War.

Airborne germs

In the 1860s, thousands of soldiers in the Confederate and Union armies died from infections caught during operations in field hospitals.

Johnson & Johnson is a very conservatively run organisation - it knows what it does well and it's been a great success
Tom Blackett, Interbrand

The English surgeon Sir Joseph Lister was among the first to identify airborne germs as a source of infection to patients.

In 1876, Robert Wood Johnson heard Sir Joseph speak and this inspired him to develop a new type of ready to use, surgical dressing.

He later formed a partnership with his brothers, James Wood and Edward Mead Johnson, and set up shop in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

More than a century later, and with almost 110,000 staff in 57 countries, the company's headquarters still remain in New Jersey.

'Massive opportunity'

Since it first floated shares on the New York Stock Exchange, in 1944, Johnson & Johnson has emphasised a tradition of being socially responsible.

It donated more than $80m worth of healthcare products to help victims of the tsunami disaster in Asia.

Last year, the company was number one in the annual corporate reputation survey, carried out by the market research group Harris.

"Our research study shows a very high degree of public trust in Johnson & Johnson's communications," says Robert Fronk, who organised the survey for Harris.

"Johnson & Johnson is a remarkably reassuring brand," agrees Tom Blackett, the deputy chairman of branding analysts Interbrand.

"Broadly speaking, Johnson & Johnson is a very conservatively run organisation. It knows what it does well and it's been a great success.

"I think in the area of pharmaceuticals products, in particular, it has a massive area of opportunity."

Tampered pills

But Johnson & Johnson has also faced potentially disastrous controversy.

In 1982, seven people died in Chicago after taking extra strength Tylenol tablets, which had been laced with cyanide.

Tylenol, a pain killing pill, was produced by Johnson & Johnson.

The scandal and the subsequent adverse publicity threatened to badly damage the company's reputation, though it responded quickly to limit the damage.

The company's response to the situation is often cited by business schools, such as Harvard, as the perfect reaction to a corporate crisis.

"They responded immediately. They had the chief executive on TV, they withdrew all bottles of Tylenol because there was a tampering incident," says Allyson Stewart-Allen, a director with International Marketing Partners.

"Johnson & Johnson clearly values this quality that it has built up over many years in the minds of consumers as a trusted brand. That doesn't come overnight."


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Tom Blackett, deputy chairman of Interbrand
"Johnson & Johnson is a remarkably reassuring brand."



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