Erika Hayes James
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  • What’s Happening to J&J?

    Johnson & Johnson has been the indisputable leader for decades in corporate reputation, trustworthiness, and effective crisis handling. The company has achieved such acclaim in no small way because of a widely held set of corporate values. J&J has one of the most clearly articulated corporate credos in the world.

    We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, and patient, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services… We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world…We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit…We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well…Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit…”

    In reading their credo I think to myself, “This is a company I would be proud to work for.” As a crisis expert, that sentiment was heightened over the years following the Tylenol poisoning in the early 1980s and seeing how swiftly and effectively J&J responded to the crisis. They lived their credo under the most challenging of circumstances and became admired throughout their world as a result.

    Given this backdrop, I find the recent scandals surrounding J&J to be a conundrum. For example, there have been increasing complaints that cost saving measures in the company have led to a decline in product quality leading to a growing number of product recalls. Equally as egregious is that the firm allegedly sent employees into stores and other outlets, posing as customers, to buy defective product (e.g., Motrin) rather than issue a recall. The lack of transparency and the perceived inconsistency with the company’s long-standing credo is not only an enigma but a problem they must rectify. Sadly, another recent event leads me to believe they have a long way to go to reclaim the public’s admiration and trust.

    Below, Darden MBA student Amelia Finnerty recants her own story of J & J’s woes and the effect it has had on at least one consumer.


    It all started on a routine shopping excursion to pick up tampons (squeamish boys need not read any further). What would normally be a quick outing turned into a drawn out event that turned me into a detective on a hunt. Read More

  • Critical Leadership

    Crisis Leadership

    In a recent article called “Crisis Leadership” written by Erika James and coauthor Lynn Perry Wooten and published in the European Financial Review, the authors consider the prevalence and cost of business crises. They argue the need for more effective leadership at all levels of organizations and within all industries across the globe. They offer the principles from their new book on crisis leadership as a wake-up call for all current and future leaders, not to mention the business schools and other institutions that train them, in order to highlight the need for a changing leadership paradigm. Read Full Article

  • To Pause or Not to Pause

    Last week I led a group of students through a week-long intensive class called Crisis Leadership.  It is an elective class for 2nd year MBA students, and the one-week format where we meet all day everyday lends itself to doing some non-traditional activities that are not possible in the standard 90 minute class session.  One of those activities included spending an afternoon in the Darden studio practicing “media moments” on camera. I have often said that most leaders are ill-prepared for crisis, and consequently say things or make decisions that at worst create more negative publicity for the firm, or at best might get their organization back to status quo.  Rarely do the untested actions and communication of leaders under pressure lead to improvements in the form of growth, innovation, or other forms of positive organizational change.

    The goal of my Crisis Leadership class is to influence how students (our future leaders) think about, prepare for, manage, and learn from crisis situations in order to reap the proverbial opportunity.  As part of their deliverable for the course I have asked them to write a brief reflection on an “aha” moment from the class.  With their permission I will be sharing several of these reflections in this and future postings.  Below is a reflection from Seth McGuire, Darden MBA Class of 2011.  Seth writes of the impact that a metaphor used by Retired Coast Guard Admiral David Ciangalini made about he learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

    I’ve been thinking a great deal about something Retired Admiral Ciangalini said early in our discussions on Monday. When discussing the many challenges he faced in managing the 1989 clean-up effort for the Exxon Valdez oil spill  (including managing multiple stakeholders, the lack of infrastructure, limited data available to help them navigate the situation, unprecedented scope of spill, etc.) he used a football analogy to describe the need for occasional patience. Read More

  • 3/14/2011 Women Emerging In Leadership, Darden Exec Ed

    Erika first launched this powerful Executive Education program dedicated to women in leadership in October 2010. The program is scheduled to repeat March 14-18, 2011.  As you progress through a rigorous week of full-class and small-group discussions, live business cases, experiential exercises, and leadership diagnostics, you will evaluate and fine-tune your skillset, and create an action plan for evolving your leadership style and enhancing your leadership effectiveness. You will address key business and personal leadership challenges, understand how to analyze and approach them as opportunities, and return to the workplace ready to lead at the next level! For more information and to register, visit