November 13th, 2009

A Leader’s Perspective on Ethics

From Devon Prutzman, Director, WW Communications, Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics


Business ethics isn’t a new topic, but it does seem to take on particular relevance in light of today’s complex business environment. The tough challenges facing leaders in all sectors of society certainly aren’t going to be solved overnight and one Johnson & Johnson leader recently recognized the importance of helping current and future business leaders better understand the role of ethics in shaping the way they — and their organizations — do business.


I had the chance to watch Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics Company Group Chairman Nick Valeriani speak to members of the Rutgers University Institute for Ethical Leadership a few weeks ago on the topic of Creating an Ethical Organization and Dealing with Ethical Issues. Nick delivered the keynote address to more than 50 business students and business leaders for the first installment in the Ethical Leadership Speaker Series at Rutgers’ Business School campus in Newark, New Jersey. While he’s known for being an engaging speaker on any topic, it was clear that talking about ethics brought out Nick’s sense of passion about setting high standards for business leaders and for always doing the right thing. 


He began by discussing Our Credo and offering examples of how its values drive Johnson & Johnson’s business by encouraging “candid, transparent discussions to reach what we believe are the right decisions for our patients, our employees, our communities, and our shareholders.”  He talked about why building an ethical culture in an organization is important and shared some of the ethical challenges he has faced in his career, conceding that “it never gets easier to make these kinds of decisions as a leader. There are multiple sides to almost every decision and it takes a strong moral compass to stand by your values and make the tough calls.” 


He shared an example of making a tough call by reflecting on his decision to halt the U.S. launch and discontinue the international sale of a product gained through an acquisition. Nick acknowledged the disappointment of failing to deliver on a business objective, but said, “Once we understood what the data showed — that the product would not provide an additional benefit to patients, and in fact, could present additional risk – we knew we had a difficult choice to make. We held an honest and frank discussion about the options, but ultimately, the decision was clear: patients come first.” 


He went on to explore the concept of “ethical leadership” by pointing out that it’s important to value both sides of the equation.  A code of ethics that is created without leaders who commit to “ingraining honesty and integrity into the corporate culture is an empty ideal,” he said. “And leadership that doesn’t ground itself in a commitment to doing the right thing is destined to fail.” 


The audience responded to Nick’s candor and honesty with a barrage of questions, engaging in a thoughtful dialogue about how to instill ethical values in their own organizations and how to face difficult issues in companies that don’t have clear standards for ethical behavior. It was evident that his advice resonated with the audience and that they valued the opportunity to learn from someone who has spent more than three decades learning to lead in a values-driven culture.


He closed the talk by offering a simple piece of advice to the present and future leaders in the audience on creating an enduring ethical culture: “be authentic.” He stressed that the single most important thing a leader can do is lead by example, holding him or herself to a high standard and being transparent about personal values. “Have the courage not to compromise,” he said. “Your behavior speaks louder than your words.”


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