A great leader in a crisis that surfaced 30 years ago died today. Read his obituary in the Times for details of how Lawrence Foster helped restore confidence in Tylenol after 7 people were poisoned to death in Chicago back in 1982.
Invoking Robert Wood Johnson's famous credo whose first line refers to responsibility to patients using their products, Foster said: ‘This is the principle we’re going to follow. We’re going to tell them what we know, and we’re not going to tell them what we don’t know. We’ll tell them we don’t know, and we’ll get back to them when we do know.’
Then he proceeded to do the right thing, regardless of the cost, always thinking of his customers. Read what the Times obit had to say:
The strategy, which was widely viewed as a model of corporate crisis management, was to put consumer safety first, to respond to the media with alacrity and to be entirely honest.
The company suspended all advertising for Tylenol and issued a national recall of Extra Strength Tylenol capsules — more than 30 million bottles — spending more than $100 million in the process. Mr. Burke appeared on television to explain the steps the company had taken.
The plan succeeded, and though many thought consumers would never trust Tylenol again, its manufacturer, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer Products, reintroduced the brand two months later in new, ostensibly tamper-proof packaging. Within a year, Tylenol’s share of the $1.2 billion analgesic market, which had dived after the poisoning to 7 percent from 37 percent, had climbed back to 30 percent.
What a relief, seeing a leader who didn't try to cover-up, obfuscate or weasel out of a crisis. Too bad I had to go back 30 years to find this example.
Here's the credo: