Johnson & Johnson has been committed to caring for people since its founding in 1886. But it was in 1943 that those founding values were put to paper, when the guiding manual of the company, Our Credo, was first drafted.
In homage to its diamond anniversary year, we look back on the history and evolution of Johnson & Johnson's corporate responsibility statement—one of the earliest of its kind when it debuted 75 years ago—and how its four main tenets continue to guide the company to this day.
In 1935, General Robert Wood Johnson, son of the company’s founder, wrote a pamphlet titled Try Reality: A Discussion of Hours, Wages and the Industrial Future. This became the framework for Our Credo and contains its earliest written expression of ideals.
“Johnson publicly advocated for his ideas—including higher wages for American workers—during the Great Depression,” says company historian. “In Try Reality, Johnson set out in writing his ideas that businesses had a larger responsibility to society, which included everyone who used their products, their employees and the community.”
The statement now known as Our Credo was written by General Johnson in 1943 and presented at the December board of directors meeting that year—just a few months before Johnson & Johnson became a publicly traded company. When the Credo was first published in Johnson’s 1944 book, But, General Johnson..., it appeared with the title “An Industrial Credo.” According to Gurowitz, Johnson gave the document this original title because he felt all of American industry should adopt it.
It wasn’t until 1948 that the name was changed to “Our Credo,” which better represented the fact that it reflected Johnson & Johnson’s specific core values.
Since its creation, Our Credo has been revised several times, following Johnson’s belief that the document should take into account evolution in language, as well as the growth and development of the company. Among some of the more memorable updates:
In 1979, wording was added to outline the company’s responsibility to “protecting the environment and natural resources,” which reflected larger changes in the world at that time. “The modern environmental movement had begun with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, in 1962, and the first Earth Day was held in 1970, so there was a growing awareness of the need to protect the environment,” explains Gurowitz.
In 1987, “fathers” was added to accompany "mothers" in the first paragraph, and a nod to work/life balance was included with the addition of this sentence: “We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family responsibilities.” These updates “were a recognition of changes in society and the workforce—more and more women were working and there was a rise in two-career families,” says Gurowitz.
Other Johnson & Johnson leaders have also been instrumental in the continued evolution of Our Credo, including former Chairman and CEO James E. Burke, who shared that its tenets were among the reasons he joined Johnson & Johnson in 1953.
In 1975, the year before he became CEO, Burke organized Credo Challenge meetings, so company management could discuss whether the values in Our Credo were still relevant. The answer: a resounding yes! As a result, the company’s leaders came out of the meetings even more committed to the document’s timeless values.
Burke also launched the Credo Survey process in 1985. “The survey asked employees worldwide to rate how the company was living up to its responsibilities as outlined in Our Credo,” says Gurowitz.
On the Credo’s 70th anniversary in 2013, Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky launched another session of Credo Challenges to nurture a discussion on how Our Credo defines the company in modern times.
To underscore its importance to Johnson & Johnson, an 8-foot-tall engraved version (shown above) sits in the lobby of company headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Made of limestone, it weighs an estimated 30,000 pounds!
In 1997, then-Chairman and CEO Ralph S. Larsen collected 65 copies of Our Credo from various countries and had them printed in a single volume (shown above). His goal was to show how the philosophy is a force for uniting Johnson & Johnson as a worldwide organization.
In the book’s introduction, Larsen wrote: “Our Credo looks different from country to country. But no matter what the language, its enduring principles remind us of the values that make up the character of Johnson & Johnson. It is a heritage of enormous importance and a legacy we honor.”
Our Credo is displayed throughout Johnson & Johnson locations around the globe: It can be found in some 800 buildings! “Our Credo is used in two workplace environments: It’s always in the reception lobby and also displayed in conference rooms,” says, Senior Design Manager, Environments, Johnson & Johnson Design.
And while specific design guidelines exist for different applications of Our Credo, some sites have added a personal touch. For example, Johnson & Johnson’s East London, South Africa, site has the words displayed in the shape of Africa in its main reception area (shown above).
Furthermore, “many leaders in the organization have it hanging in their office, and when tough decisions come up, they've been known to use it to help guide them,” says, Director, World Headquarters Facilities Management, Johnson & Johnson Engineering and Property Services.
Johnson & Johnson is a global company—and so is Our Credo. It has been translated into nearly 50 languages and dialects, from Arabic to Xhosa.
While the current English version of Our Credo contains 308 words, the Chinese language version has 524—almost double! Bonus fact: Side-by-side English and Chinese versions of Our Credo are displayed across 23 walls in Johnson & Johnson’s Shanghai office, one of which can be seen above.