27th Apr 2012

The First 100 Days of Alex Gorsky

After 10 years as chief of healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson, Bill Weldon officially handed over the running of the company to incoming CEO Alex Gorsky at its Annual Meeting of Shareholders yesterday. Weldon saw J&J double its sales and post strong profits during his tenure, before the company tripped over a recent string of high-profile scandals and production problems. He will be staying on as Chairman. Gorsky is only the company’s ninth CEO. At yesterday’s meeting in a New Jersey hotel conference room, about 1800 shareholders turned up to hear Gorsky pitch his plans for the future of the company.

Before his 24 years with J&J, Gorsky graduated from West Point military academy and spent six years in the US Army, rising to the rank of Captain in the elite Army Rangers unit. He says this tough training helped school him in the skills of leadership, and there’s no doubt he will need those skills to meet the formidable challenges faced by J&J in the medium term. Priority number one on his list will be overhauling the company’s plant and quality control systems, the recent failure of which led to huge recalls of Tylenol, Motrin and dozens of other consumer drugs by federal authorities over the past three years.

The longer those medicines stay off the shelves, the potential damage to J&J’s customer loyalty grows, as does the chance for competitors to rush in and fill the gap. Analysts are worried that the FDA-supervised revamp may not be completed until 2014, though J&J is hoping to finish by next year.

No shortage of challenges for Gorsky in his new role as a corporate chief. His first 100 days will be impossibly stressful unless he is able to compartmentalise his workload and keep his strategic priorities in focus. At First100 we’re aware that executives can get caught up in constant fire-fighting when initially promoted to a major leadership position, gradually becoming disoriented and losing the clear sense of perspective that’s necessary for effective performance. The challenges must be met, and it is essential that they take their place as elements of a realistic and fully articulated first 100 days plan, which ultimately aims to achieve performance acceleration.

Hilda Goold

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