Johnson & Johnson CEO History


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  • Robert Wood Johnson I (1887–1910)
  • James Wood Johnson (1910–1932)
  • Robert Wood Johnson II (1932–1963)
  • Philip B. Hofmann (1963–1973)
  • Richard B. Sellars (1973–1976)
  • James E. Burke (1976–1989)
  • Ralph S. Larsen (1989–2002)
  • William C. Weldon (2002–2012)
  • Alex Gorsky (2012–2022)
  • Joaquin Duato (2023–present)


Portrait of Robert Wood Johnson I, founder and CEO of Johnson & Johnson
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Robert Wood Johnson established Johnson & Johnson in 1886 with his two brothers to produce sterile surgical dressings and hospital supplies.

Serving as the company's first president from 1887 to 1910, Johnson oversaw tremendous growth as Johnson & Johnson expanded its product lines to include consumer goods like sanitary napkins and baby products.

Under his leadership, the company published medical manuals, supported railroad workers with first aid kits, and vaccinated all employees during the 1901 smallpox epidemic.

The company quickly became an industry leader known for its progressive employee policies and commitment to public health.

However, Johnson also faced controversies and failures.

The company maintained its red cross trademark despite objections that this violated international standards designating the symbol for military and emergency use.

Johnson & Johnson also advertised questionable medical claims about its products to doctors and consumers.

Ultimately though, Johnson built the foundation of an enduring, innovative healthcare company dedicated to improving lives.

When he passed away in 1910, Johnson left behind a thriving business poised for greater success in the 20th century under the leadership of his successors.

Though not without faults, his vision and enterprise were instrumental in establishing Johnson & Johnson as a leader in personal health and medical technologies over the past 130+ years.


portrait of James Wood Johnson
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When James Wood Johnson took over leadership following his brother Robert's death in 1910, the company was already well-established but still growing rapidly.

As president from 1910 to 1932, James oversaw expansion into new international markets by opening factories in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and South Africa. Revenue and employment numbers more than doubled over this period.  

However, his tenure also coincided with significant external challenges.

James steered Johnson & Johnson through major historical events like World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic, finding opportunities to supply medical products while also protecting employees' jobs.

During the Great Depression, he maintained full workforce capacity and increased wages, arguing that businesses had a duty to support consumers and communities.  

While James Wood Johnson did not have the founding role his elder brother did, his lengthy presidency consolidated Johnson & Johnson's position as an industry empire.

He successfully guided the company through economic volatility and global conflict while upholding its values of social responsibility.

When James retired in 1932 after 22 years as president, Johnson & Johnson was well-equipped to thrive for decades more under the next generation of leadership.


portrait of Robert Wood Johnson II
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The grandson of founder Robert Wood Johnson, Robert Wood Johnson II became president in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression.

His first major initiative provided a defining moment for the company culture. In 1943, Johnson wrote the historic "Our Credo" statement outlining Johnson & Johnson's moral responsibilities toward consumers, employees, communities and shareholders.

Under his leadership for over 30 years, the company experienced tremendous growth and global expansion of its consumer goods and medical device products, partially fueled by surging demand during World War II and the baby boom years.

Revenues grew over 15 times from the early 1930s to Johnson's retirement in 1963.

However, this rapid business growth also led to some criticism. Johnson promoted his friend Philip B. Hofmann as his successor in 1963 rather than a more experienced executive, prompting accusations of nepotism given their social ties outside work.

Overall though, Johnson left an enduring legacy and set up Johnson & Johnson for continued prosperity when he stepped down after more than three decades guiding the increasingly diversified corporation.


portrait of Philip Hofman
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Philip B. Hofmann was a controversial choice when he took over leadership of Johnson & Johnson in 1963.

As the first non-family member to hold the dual Chairman and CEO roles, Hofmann faced nepotism claims from those who felt he was selected due to his close friendship with outgoing CEO Robert Wood Johnson II rather than his business credentials.

During his 10-year tenure, Hofmann oversaw steady financial growth and expansion into new product categories like contraceptives and vision care.

He also helped establish notable J&J institutions—the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies familiar to modern customers and the philanthropic Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

However, Hofmann generated criticism for what some perceived as a lack of bold strategic vision beyond continuing existing momentum.

He also faced difficulty managing J&J's increasing complexity during a time when conglomerates were falling out of favor versus more focused organizations.

While avoiding major issues, he did not leave as transformative a legacy as some hoped when he stepped down in 1973. Still, Philip B. Hofmann helped guide Johnson & Johnson's profitable ascent to its prominent diversified profile in the late 20th century.


portrait of Richard Sellars
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Richard Sellars rose through Johnson & Johnson's ranks, gaining extensive experience heading subsidiaries like McNeil Laboratories before his appointment as CEO in 1973.

However, his time leading the parent company would prove brief.

Sellars provided steady leadership as sales and profits continued growing.

But competition was heating up across J&J's diversified business segments from other major conglomerates, as well as more disruptive economic conditions like the 1973 oil crisis and ensuing stagnant economy later termed "stagflation."

Some questioned whether Sellars took bold enough action in response as growth slowed from prior decades' breakneck pace.

Within just three years, he passed the CEO mantle in 1976 to the younger, more aggressive James Burke.

While avoiding major missteps, Sellars did not manage to leave a distinctive imprint during his short stint at the helm of Johnson & Johnson amidst challenging business dynamics of the mid 1970s.

His rather unremarkable tenure capped off over three decades of company promotion before stepping down at age 63.


Portrait of James Burke
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James Burke assumed leadership at a pivotal moment when previous rapid growth was slowing. He reinvigorated the company culture and executed strategic transformations to set J&J's course for the future.

Just six years into his tenure, Burke’s strengths were tested when seven people died from Tylenol capsules tampered with cyanide in 1982.

His handling of the crisis became a case study in effective communication and proactive response. J&J pioneered industry safety standards and restored public trust, leading to even higher sales.

Under Burke’s visionary leadership, J&J diversified further into pharmaceuticals and high-tech medical devices, pioneering new products enhancing its innovation reputation.

He also decentralized the organizational structure into more agile subsidiaries.

Burke left an enduring legacy when retiring in 1989 after modernizing J&J’s operations and values for sustained success. His 13 years of transformative change were credited with saving J&J from stagnation and preparing it to prosper for coming decades.


portrait of Ralph Larsen
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When Ralph Larsen succeeded the legendary James Burke in 1989, he faced the daunting task of following the CEO credited with saving and transforming Johnson & Johnson.

While lacking his predecessor's charismatic public profile, Larsen provided essential leadership continuity.

He sustained Burke’s vision emphasizing pharmaceutical innovation and high-technology medical devices.

Key new products launched under Larsen included spinal implants, HIV/AIDS and anti-nausea treatments, and disposable contact lenses. Larsen also oversaw multiple major acquisitions expanding J&J's presence across sectors.

While sales growth temporarily slowed in the early 1990s, Larsen guided the company through restructuring while preserving its decentralized operating structure and values.

Under his steady leadership for 13 years, Johnson & Johnson sales ultimately nearly tripled despite the pressures of patent expirations and competition from generic drug makers.

When Larsen retired in 2002, Johnson & Johnson remained well-equipped for the 21st century across its robust, diversified business segments.

While rarely considered transformational, his low-key but strategic leadership provided essential continuity advancing J&J’s prosperity.


portrait of William Weldon
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William Weldon took charge of Johnson & Johnson in an era of growth through drug development, major acquisitions, and aggressive marketing.

He oversaw key new product approvals in vision care, blood glucose monitoring, and HIV/AIDS. J&J also purchased Pfizer’s consumer healthcare division along with multiple biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

However, his tenure was marred by a series of major recalls and quality control problems resulting in plant shutdowns and supply shortages.

Weldon faced public criticism for inadequate responses as the company’s sterling brand reputation suffered. Legal settlements over improper opioid, antipsychotic and medical device marketing also caused controversy.

While financial performance remained strong, by 2012 Johnson & Johnson was plagued by quality issues requiring significant remediation investments.

Weldon and J&J were portrayed as prioritizing profits over patients’ interests, violating the company’s historic ethical principles.

After 10 years pursuing growth over governance, Weldon left successor Alex Gorsky a damaged reputation to rebuild along with continuing the business success.


portrait of Alex Gorsky
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When longtime Johnson & Johnson executive Alex Gorsky assumed leadership in 2012, he inherited quality control problems and reputational damage from recalls and legal violations under previous CEO William Weldon.

Gorsky took decisive actions to restore public trust and overhaul quality management.

He also resisted calls to split up J&J amidst challenges facing diversified healthcare conglomerates, keeping its global business structured across pharmaceuticals, medical devices and consumer health segments.

Under Gorsky’s leadership, J&J’s finances thrived with over $90 billion in sales by 2021. The company also developed a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine applying its scientific expertise to address the pandemic.

After a decade guiding Johnson & Johnson’s continued growth while regenerating its brand reputation for safety and ethics, Gorsky handed responsibility to Joaquin Duato in 2022.

Duato would lead the company’s planned separation into two public entities in 2023, but Gorsky left J&J strongly positioned to adapt its businesses for the future across both.


portrait of J&J CEO Joaquin Duato
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Duato joined J&J's leadership team in 2011 and was widely recognized for his global expertise across the company's sectors.

As CEO, he enacted the critical business restructuring first announced under prior leader Alex Gorsky—splitting the conglomerate into two publicly traded companies.

The new Johnson & Johnson is exclusively focused on pharmaceutical and medical technologies.

It retains coveted AAA credit and ranks among the 40 largest U.S. corporations with 135,000+ employees worldwide.

The new independent Kenvue consumer health company opened for public investment in 2023 as well.

As Duato leads J&J into its next chapter, his vision emphasizes improving global healthcare access and developing transformational solutions for unmet patient needs.

With its concentrated structure and robust pipeline, Johnson & Johnson seems poised for continued success improving patient lives under his forward-thinking leadership.

As the first year of Duato's tenure unfolds, his ability to drive growth while upholding J&J’s legacy of ethics and innovation will define his own legacy guiding the 134-year-old company into the future.