James E. Burke, Former Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Dies at 87
New Brunswick, N.J., (October 1, 2012) – Former Johnson & Johnson Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James E. Burke, whose extraordinary career in the private and public sectors earned him the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, died late Friday at the age of 87.
“Jim Burke was among the greatest leaders in the history of American business,” said Alex Gorsky, Chief Executive Officer of Johnson & Johnson. “His commitment to the values expressed in Our Credo served as the foundation for everything Jim did throughout his remarkable career. He will forever inspire the people of Johnson & Johnson.”
“Jim was a courageous leader, who defined the very essence of corporate and civic responsibility,” said William C. Weldon, Chairman of Johnson & Johnson. “His passion and commitment to children and families benefited not only Johnson & Johnson, but our country as well.”
Born in Rutland, Vermont in 1925, Burke grew up in the small upstate New York town of Slingerlands. After commanding a landing craft tank in the Pacific during World War II as an ensign in the United States Navy, he completed his college education and was graduated from Holy Cross in 1947 and the Harvard Business School in 1949. In 1953, Burke joined Johnson & Johnson as a product director. There, he would spend 37 years of his life, 16 of them as president (1973-1976) and then chairman and chief executive officer (1976-1989).
During Burke’s tenure as chairman and chief executive officer, Johnson & Johnson experienced noteworthy growth. The company’s sales grew more than threefold to $9 billion; net income increased nearly fivefold; its market capitalization nearly tripled; and it expanded its presence from 37 to 54 countries, all while focusing on meeting significant unmet needs of patients and consumers around the world. While his accomplishments were significant and shaped Johnson & Johnson as a global, health care concern, Burke’s career will likely be best remembered for his steady leadership of the company during the Tylenol poisonings in 1982 and 1986.
After retiring from Johnson & Johnson in 1989, Burke assumed the chairmanship of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (now The Partnership at Drugfree.org), a non-profit organization founded by the American Association of Advertising Agencies. The Partnership created hard-hitting advertising designed to change social attitudes about illicit drugs. Burke rallied thousands of media and communications professionals to support the cause. Campaigns were created pro bono by hundreds of advertising agencies; media companies donated millions of dollars in broadcast time and print space to carry the campaigns. Under Burke’s leadership, the Partnership would grow to become one of the most effective organizations combating substance abuse in the United States.
At a ceremony held in the East Room of the White House on August 9, 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Burke the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his outstanding corporate and civic leadership. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian award. It is reserved for individuals the President deems to have made extraordinary contributions to the country. As one of America’s most respected corporate leaders of his time, and as an admired leader in the fight against drug abuse, Burke’s career came to define modern-day corporate social responsibility, as well as civic responsibility.
In a letter to President Bill Clinton offered in support of Burke’s nomination for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President George H. W. Bush said: “Jim deserves the award not only for his tireless and unselfish work in the fight against drugs, but also for his exemplary business leadership when he was CEO of Johnson & Johnson.”
“Jim Burke believed 100 percent in the Johnson & Johnson Credo, as he exemplified when he took Tylenol off the shelves (in 1982 and 1986),” said Thomas S. Murphy, former chairman and chief executive officer of Capital Cities / ABC. Murphy met Burke at the Harvard Business School; they were roommates for many years, and became lifelong friends. “Jim also was a great believer in America. To me, he was a wonderful friend.”
“Jim Burke’s business acumen, leadership skills and warm, gracious, self-effacing personality turned the Partnership for a Drug-Free America into an incredibly effective national organization that influenced the lives of millions of Americans,” said Roy Bostock, chairman emeritus of the Partnership. “Jim used his special gifts to help others. He richly deserved the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to him by President Clinton.”
Burke and his wife, Didi, have been long-time residents of Princeton, New Jersey. He is survived by his wife, Didi; his son, James of Princeton; his daughter, Clo Burke of San Antonio, Texas; a sister, Phyllis Burke Davis of Bridgehampton, New York; and four grandchildren.
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Caring for the world, one person at a time…inspires and unites the people of Johnson & Johnson. We embrace research and science - bringing innovative ideas, products and services to advance the health and well-being of people. Our approximately 128,000 employees at more than 250 Johnson & Johnson operating companies work with partners in health care to touch the lives of over a billion people every day, throughout the world.