Enterprise | New Brunswick | Highland Park | Raritan (1893 – 1968)
Robert Wood Johnson, the son and nephew of the co-founders of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), built J&J into a global, diversified healthcare company. Born in 1893 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson served as J&J’s chairman of the board from 1938-1963.
Under Johnson’s direction, J&J opened new sales and manufacturing plants in Brazil, Argentina, India, and other locations worldwide. He expanded the company’s product lines beyond first aid kits and baby powder and, under his leadership, J&J entered the pharmaceutical industry, becoming one of the world’s largest drug manufacturers.
Johnson’s corporate philosophy, embodied in the J&J Credo, which outlined the company’s values, emerged as a new model for other companies to follow. The Credo emphasized J&J’s corporate social responsibility: first to its customers, followed by its workers, management, community, and lastly its stockholders.
Robert Wood Johnson believed strongly in public service. He had earned the title of “the General” during World War II when he served as a brigadier general in charge of the New York Ordnance District. He resigned that post when President Roosevelt appointed him vice chairman of the War Production Board and chairman of the Smaller War Plants Corporation.
A prolific writer, he authored four books and numerous articles on a range of subjects such as military preparedness and business-labor relations.
Johnson contended that full industrial production, combined with engaged, satisfied employees, safeguarded capitalism against potential Communists threats at-home and abroad. Unlike other business leaders of the time, he believed in the rights of the worker. He advocated for higher wages, improved working conditions, and job training skills for working-class Americans.
Johnson also promoted health care issues such as patient care in the hospital setting. He pushed for improved nursing education as one means to enhance the quality of care, and believed that hospital administrators needed specialized training. His work with Malcolm Thomas MacEachern, MD, then president of the American College of Surgeons, led to the founding, at Northwestern University, of one of the first schools of hospital administration.
Throughout his lifetime, Johnson demonstrated compassion and concern for the poor and indigent. In December 1936, he founded the Johnson New Brunswick Foundation. The philanthropy’s first grant involved a donation of 130 acres of land in Highland Park to the County of Middlesex for use as a public park. In 1952, his foundation – newly named the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) – expanded its domain beyond New Brunswick to include all of New Jersey.
Johnson died on January 30, 1968, and bequeathed his company stock to RWJF. It took three years to probate his estate. By that point the foundation had a net worth of more than $1.2 billion, making it the second largest foundation in the country. Today, RWJF, worth more than $10 billion, is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted solely to the public’s health. Its grantmaking serves as a living tribute to the General.
The Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, both New Jersey-based institutions, also testify to Johnson’s lasting impact on health care in New Jersey.