Poison and Good Ethics


For Paper two I was interested in doing a case with a company that showed good ethics, as my last paper was much more on the negative decisions and ethical choices company’s make.  I am interested in learning more about the Tylenol recall by Johnson and Johnson that occurred in 1982. The case involved the deaths of  7 people in the Chicago area after they took Tylenol tablets laced with cyanide poison. Johnson and Johnson acted quickly in the crisis by launching a massive recall of its products and offered $100,000 reward for information to help in the arrest of the people responsible. It was soon discovered that the tampered capsules were not in fact from the factory, but had been produced; meaning someone had taken the bottles from the store, laced them with the cyanide, and then returned them to the shelves.

Regardless of Johnson and Johnson’s involvement in the poisoning, the company started a massive public relations campaign informing the public not to use Tylenol until the matter was resolved. When Johnson and Johnson returned Tylenol to the shelves they added a new feature to their bottles in response to the prior crisis. The company added a plastic seal which would prevent medicine from being tampered with. The company also allowed free replacement of the old Tylenol product with the safer form. In all, Johnson and Johnson lost almost $100 million on the recall, however their good ethics was not unnoticed and Tylenol remains a high selling product for the company today. I believe the way the company handled the issue showed its responsibility and value for the customer. In the end, the decision only briefly effected the stockholders as the companies stock quickly rebounded and then continued to rise. This can tie into the readings on stockholder and shareholder ethics, as the company’s reaction was clearly a stakeholder approach. However, the impact on longer term stockholders was also beneficial.

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5 responses to “Poison and Good Ethics

  1. I think this would be a great topic for your paper. The Johnson and Johnson tylenol issue demonstrates an unethical mistake and a very ethical solution. Due to their ethical actions, the company became a reputable source of medication – consumers became loyal to the brand because of their response to this controversy. If you can find them, it would be interesting to compare tylenol sales pre and post this scandal – did they increase? Remain the same? This analysis can be a great indication of customer loyalty.

  2. I worked with J&J this summer and they are currently experiencing a similar problem with only 8 of their 100+ varieties on the shelves as of a few months ago. The conditions in one of their factories were so bad that the contamination got into the medicine bottles and made the product smell and make people sick. They have been unable to reopen the plant they product most of their Tylenol and Motrin products at for a very long time and the FDA has stepped in to assure that they reopen it in compliance with all their regulations. Since the cyanide incident was quite a while ago, it may be interesting to compare their current recalls with what occurred in the 1970s.

  3. I like that your trying to focus on a positive aspect of the business world considering people so often put the negatives in the limelight, which I feel puts out a certain view of business in general as negative. I would still be skeptical of J&J however, in that even though this was a moral (as well as an economically crucial) decision, the company still has had several other contraversies concerning toxic ingredients, and other similar issues. I would love to hear about J&J on the whole ethically, especially because this would not have been the first company to pop into my mind in this context.

  4. I like this idea. I think HCM and PR are 2 of the most important parts of a business and I like the idea you are focusing on the Public Relations of J&J with the shareholders and stakeholders. I also agree with Kyle in the sense that I think too much is focused on the negative and I like how you are focusing on the positives of J&J. Should be an interesting paper!

  5. This is a good example of how a company can react to a catastrophe such as this. I think a key thing with Johnson&Johnson was the speed of their reaction. They showed they cared by launching a massive and costly public relations campaign. I think it would be interesting to look into other examples of sound ethical reactions in situations like this.

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